Series Preview, X-factors and Prediction: Cubs vs. White Sox
Cubs hope to clinch the division in the final three games (Kamil Krzaczynski - USAT)

Series Preview, X-factors and Prediction: Cubs vs. White Sox

by - Senior Writer -

Two weeks ago, both the Cubs and White Sox were riding high. You had a streaking White Sox team who surged into not only first in the AL Central but occupied the No. 1 seed in the AL. You had the Cubs who seemed to be finding their way back, reaching a season-high 11 games over .500 to extend their lead in the NL Central to 5.5 games. This series had all the makings of being a classic one.

Then, something happened as both teams have not only crashed to reality but are now playing their worst ball of the season at the worst time. The Cubs have seen their lead in the Central dwindle to just 2.5 games as they have scored a total of nine runs in their last seven games. The White Sox are coming off getting swept against the Indians and have now lost six of seven to fall out of first in the AL Central. To make matters worse, the Indians could pass the Sox up, which could knock them further down the playoff ladder.

Something has to give this weekend as we are embarking on what I like to call a desperation series. Both teams are postseason bound, but both teams want the division crown. The White Sox could still earn a home series without the Central title, but the Cubs need to win the division to get that home series.

This weekend is all about who wants it more. Here are the matchups, along with predictions.

Friday at 7:10 p.m. CDT on Marquee Network and ESPN 2: Yu Darvish (7-3 2.22 ERA 88 SO) vs. Dylan Cease (5-3 3.52 ERA 39 SO)

This is a must-win game for both clubs as they need to turn their fortunes around. Fortunately for the Cubs, they turn to their ace in Darvish while missing both Lucas Giolito and Dallas Kuechel this series.

Darvish has shown some cracks in the armor his last three outings but continues to deliver quality outings every time out. They need him to be at his best against this offense as Darvish has posted a 3.46 ERA in four September starts. In his previous start against the Sox in Wrigley, Darvish kept the offense at bay, allowing one run in the Cubs 2-1 win.

On the other hand, Cease continues to struggle with his command, which was evident in his last outing. After needing 10 pitches to get through the first against the Reds, Cease was yanked in the fourth after walking seven hitters. The Cubs love to take walks, so that may come into play once again. Cease faced Darvish back on August 23, lasting six innings and allowing just two runs in the 2-1 loss. This will be his second career start against the team that drafted him.

Saturday at 6:10 p.m. CDT on Marquee Network: Jon Lester (3-2 4.40 ERA 39 SO) vs. Dane Dunning (2-0 3.19 ERA 33 SO)

In what could be his final regular-season start as a Chicago Cub, Lester is looking to close out September with a bang after posting a 1.06 ERA across 17 innings his last three outings. This is the time of year when postseason Lester shows up, and it appears that form is in full swing.

Lester won his last time out against the Pirates as that was his first win in nearly a month. The veteran continues to reinvent himself by pitching to contact, but he needs to be careful against this lineup.

Opposing him and facing the Cubs for the first time is the rookie Dane Dunning.

Across his six starts, the White Sox have gone 5-1 with their first loss coming against Cleveland this week. Dunning has not only inserted himself into the rotation this season but has made quite an impression to be counted on next year and beyond. Across his 31 innings of work, Dunning has fanned 33 to just 10 walks and is trusting his fastball more than ever before. It will be essential for the Cubs to attack him early and not let him settle in.

Sunday at 2:10 p.m. CDT on Marquee Network: Adbert Alzolay vs. Reynaldo Lopez (1-2 4.68 ERA 21 SO)

Although the Cubs have yet to announce a starter for Sunday, I think it is safe to say we should expect a similar approach to what they did on Tuesday. In that game, Jose Quintana made his first start of the season with Adbert Alzolay following out of the pen. With both guys looking to make the postseason roster and the Cubs needing a fifth starter for the postseason, look for both to see innings on Sunday in order to make one last impression.

The White Sox, however, has a starter ready to go in Lopez. Record and ERA aside, Lopez has been much better since coming off the IL as he has posted a 2.35 ERA since returning from the team's alternate site. This could be a postseason audition for him also as he is looking to solidify a spot on the team's postseason roster. Lopez will be making his second start against the Cubs this season. Lopez lasted just 3 1/3 innings in his first outing, allowing two runs, two walks, and striking out four. It was his first start off the IL, so he was on a tight pitch count.

X-Factor - Team effort

As mentioned, both teams are struggling right now and desperate for some win. Any positive momentum going into the playoffs is a good thing right now, and both teams need it. There isn't an X-Factor to this series as both teams know what to expect from one another. Whoever wants it more is the most significant factor to me.

Prediction - White Sox win two of three

This is a must-win series for both teams, but more so for the Sox now that they are in second. Given where the Cubs stand right now, should they win just one game over the weekend, they eliminate the Reds from the division conversation. Should they win two or more games, they would eliminate the Cardinals.

The White Sox need this series more than ever and some help if they want to not only win this division but hold off the surging Indians. I don't think the White Sox will sweep, but I think they take two of three this weekend to pressure the rest of the teams in their division to take their series. With one win, the Cubs are forcing the Cardinals to go 4-1 or better against Milwaukee to earn that potential doubleheader with Detroit on Monday.

Things could get interesting this weekend in both Central races.

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