Chicago the Center of the Baseball Universe Thursday

Any questions about Chicago’s status as the center of the baseball universe will be put to rest on Thursday night as four first place teams take the field in the Windy City.

On the South Side, the American League Central-leading Chicago White Sox will wrap up a series with the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.  Just eight miles north, the two best teams in the National League will square off, as the Central-leading Cubs welcome the East-leading Washington Nationals to Wrigley Field.

The White Sox and Red Sox have split the first two games of the three-game set at US Cellular Field, with Boston winning game two of the series 5-2 on Wednesday night. David Ortiz cracked a home run for the Red Sox, and Chicago’s offense couldn’t muster any hitting after Jose Abreu hit a home run in the losing effort.

Even with the loss, the White Sox still have a comfortable four game lead in the Central Division over the Detroit Tigers, and they have a two and a half game lead on the Red Sox and Seattle Mariners for the best record in the entire American League. They also have the second-best run differential in the AL, and have allowed fewer runs than any other club in the junior circuit.

The two teams will wrap up the series on Thursday night, as Erik Johnson makes his season debut for the White Sox. Opposing him on the bump will be Henry Owens, who is coming off of a solid start in his last outing and will be looking for his first win of the season as Boston tries to take two out of three in the series.

Up at Wrigley, the Cubs will have Kyle Hendricks squaring off against Joe Ross in the series opener at the Friendly Confines. The Cubs are coming off of a dominant performance earlier in the week as they swept the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Cubs outscored the Pirates 20-5 in the three games, and Anthony Rizzo had a monster series as he hit five doubles and scored six runs in the three games.

The Nationals are also riding high under new manager (and former Cubs skipper) Dusty Baker, as they took two out of three games from the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals at Kaufmann Stadium. Buoyed by excellent pitching and the reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper, the Nationals have the second-best record in the NL, and will be looking to make a serious statement against the Cubs this weekend.

The Cubs currently have a six game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central, and are on an absolutely ludicrous pace to start the season. Their run differential of +93 is the best that any team has had through 26 games since the 1950 season, and they have scored more runs (159) and allowed fewer runs (66) than any team in baseball so far this season.

The Cubs and Nationals will kick off their series at 7:05 p.m. Thursday night, with the White Sox and Red Sox following closely behind at 7:10 p.m.

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