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Cubs-White Sox loses luster, not to mention Dempster-Sale tilt

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Updated: July 19, 2012 6:19AM

Starlin Castro.


That’s the one position player on the Cubs who could start for the White Sox these days, and it comes with a maybe because of the defense that would be lost without Alexei Ramirez.

Pitching? Ryan Dempster, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza could start for the Sox, but not one Cubs reliever could crack the Sox’ bullpen.

Welcome to the death of a rivalry.

The term “rivalry” is used loosely anyway. Considering the definition of the word is “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field,” the rivalry has been dead for several years. It was killed after the 2008 season, with the Sox becoming the dominant force in the series.

Entering the opener of a three-game crosstown catastrophe Monday at the Cell, the Sox have won seven of the last eight games, 18 of the last 24 and eight consecutive series.

But wait, isn’t this series about the fans? That’s what the players from both clubhouses like to preach.

Yes, the fans are having so much fun with it that they would rather stay at home than fill the stands. There were plenty of good seats available in Round 1 last month, and that was at Wrigley Field.

Now that it’s moving to U.S. Cellular Field, plenty of good sections should be available.

The days of former Sox manager Jerry Manuel telling pitching coach Nardi Contreras to make sure the rotation sets up so lefties Jim Parque and Mike Sirotka face the Cubs in the first two games of the series at Wrigley Field in 1999 are long gone.

Manuel gave that order the first day of spring training. Why?

Manuel had no understanding of the magnitude Cubs-Sox had throughout the city in his rookie year as manager in 1998, and the Sox were swept at Wrigley Field. Everywhere he went after that series, he heard about it from Sox fans.

That was when Cubs-Sox meant something — three games a season, switching venues every year.

These days, it’s a stale six games in which the media has to search for ways to hype it up and give it life.

Please, Bud Selig, pull the plug on the six-game interleague series between so-called rivals.

Ask a Cubs fan what happened the first time the teams met this season, and the response likely will be, “ ‘Kid K’ retired that weekend,” followed by a lone tear running down his cheek in memory of the overrated Kerry Wood hanging up his Cubbie blues.

What did happen was the Sox went into Wrigley Field, swept the series, outscored the Cubs 16-6 and left with a .500 record. They went on to win nine of their next 10 games, taking over first place in the division.

And don’t believe that the sweep fired up the Sox. The Cubs simply were standing in the way of progress.

It isn’t all bad, though. Each team has a pitcher worthy of appearing in the All-Star Game.

Dempster (3-3, 2.11 ERA) has been magnificent, despite receiving very little run support. The right-hander has won three starts in a row while throwing 22 consecutive scoreless innings.

Then there’s Sale (8-2, 2.46), the “it’’ kid in the American League. The southpaw was the AL pitcher of the month in May, going 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA.

Had the Sox not altered their rotation, Dempster and Sale would have squared off Wednesday. That would have given Cubs-Sox some juice, and it might not have been the only time they met this season. Imagine Dempster vs. Sale to start the Midsummer Classic in Kansas City. They have the numbers to make it happen.

But Sox manager Robin Ventura isn’t putting his rotation back to make that happen at the Cell. Cubs-Sox just isn’t what it used to be.

RIP crosstown series. We knew you well.

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