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White Sox prepare for rivalry series with Cubs

Newcomers introduced to Interleague matchup in final set before All-Star break

CHICAGO -- Jeff Samardzija knows about it. So does Geovany Soto, and even Jose Abreu.

But starting on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, new additions to the White Sox roster such as Carlos Rodon and David Robertson will get their first taste of the Cubs-White Sox rivalry.

"I've heard it's a pretty big deal," said Rodon, who is scheduled to start for the White Sox on Friday. "So I'm looking forward to it."

"Yeah, I'm interested," Robertson said. "I'm assuming it will be a lot like New York and the Mets and Yankees because it's more of the bragging rights."

There was a time at the outset of this Interleague rivalry in 1997 when these head-to-head contests meant as much as any game played during the regular season. Paul Konerko called them the closest to a playoff atmosphere without being in the postseason.

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That rivalry arguably began to change in 2003, when the Cubs came within five outs of reaching the World Series. It definitely took a hard right when the White Sox claimed the World Series in '05.

Some of the intensity -- and maybe even competitive venom -- has been lost from the Cubs-White Sox matchups over the past few years, with neither team being in contention. But with the Cubs off to a great start and sitting as a National League Wild Card team entering Thursday, and an underachieving White Sox squad trying to build off recent momentum, the fire should return this weekend.

Having the games back on summer weekends also makes a difference.

"They're always fun," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of playing the Cubs. "Fans enjoy it, but players enjoy it too. Everybody downplays it, but there's always a little more energy in either stadium, whichever one you're playing in, when you're playing in those games.

"Each city is unique in how it plays out, but they're the same. You've got fans who are living in the same city, rooting for each team. This one is North-South. The other one [in New York] might be boroughs. L.A., it's North-South. It's a fun environment. Any city that is fortunate enough to have two teams in the same area, it's what Interleague was meant for."

Former Yankees closer Robertson said the games with the Mets were intense and had "a mixed bag of fans in the stands that made for an awesome, interesting game." But they didn't provide quite a playoff atmosphere.

Abreu felt the intensity of the rivalry last season, reminding him of days with his Cienfuegos team in Cuba playing Villa Clara.

"Yes, I felt it last year in the field and I saw the crowd and it was very exciting," said Abreu, through interpreter and Spanish language broadcaster Billy Russo. "You enjoy it more on the field, how you live the rivalry on the field."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Chicago White Sox, Carlos Rodon, David Robertson, Jose Abreu