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Struggling Cubs match up with MLB bottom-dwelling White Sox

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee BrewersMay 29, 2024; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (18) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs open a two-game series at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night in what is being called the Crosstown Classic.

However, given the two teams’ recent performances, a better slogan might be the “Crosstown Not-So-Classic.”

The Cubs enter having lost six straight series following a 5-2 loss to visiting Cincinnati on Sunday. They have lost four of their last five games and are 2-9 in their last eleven games.

That’s a nice streak compared to the White Sox, who are on an eleven-game losing streak – their longest streak since 1956 – and have lost fifteen of their last sixteen games.

The White Sox are the worst 15-45 in Major League Baseball – the worst start in franchise history – and have a striking run differential of minus 138, 56 runs worse than the next worst team, the Miami Marlins (minus -82).

Right-hander Chris Flexen (2-5, 5.50 ERA) will look to give the White Sox their first win since a 5-0 victory in Toronto on May 21. Flexen is 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in six career games (three starts) against the Cubs, including 0-1 with an 8.74 ERA in five games (two starts) at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs enter Monday in third place in the National League Central, 7 1/2 games behind division leader Milwaukee and just a half-game out of a wild-card spot despite their recent struggles. They counter with left-handed Shota Imanaga (5-1, 1.86).

Imanaga signed a four-year contract with the Cubs in January after pitching eight seasons with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars in the Japan Central League. He became the first Cubs pitcher since 1901 to open his career with nine consecutive starts, allowing two earned runs or fewer.

The streak was snapped in his last outing, a 10-6 loss to the Brewers last Wednesday, when he allowed seven runs, including a pair of two-run homers to Christian Yelich and Blake Perkins, on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Imanaga had entered that loss in Milwaukee with a Major League-leading ERA of 0.84 and 58 strikeouts. He had had an 11-day break between starts before that game, as the Cubs decided to skip his turn in the rotation while he adjusted to the MLB grind.

“He just wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen in the past,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “They hit his mistakes and got the ball in the air well. So it just wasn’t a great night for Shota.”

The 30-year-old Imanaga refused through a translator to blame the poor start on the long layoff.

“It was good for the recovery,” Imanaga said. “I got my training in and felt good. I don’t think there was a problem with that really. I felt really recovered.”

“I think the historic start is over, but the great start is still there,” Counsell said. “Nothing changes from my perspective. He was a joy to watch.”

The White Sox seem like the ideal team to try to make a recovery start. The injury-plagued ChiSox, which features All-Star center fielder Luis Robert Jr. (right hip flexor) back for the series, ranks last in the MLB in average (.214), runs scored (172) and home runs (43). A loss on Tuesday would match the third-longest losing streak in team history (12) dating back to 1927.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol told MLB.com he expects Wrigley Field to be excited for the two games.

“There’s not a lot of love there, even though it’s the same town,” Grifol said. “But it’s a great rivalry. It’s fun. There’s a good playoff atmosphere in the middle of the season.”

–Field-level media

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