Cubs open Interleague Play with reunion
Former Rangers Byrd, Soriano, Jaramillo return to Texas
CHICAGO -- It will be homecoming weekend for Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano and Rudy Jaramillo when the Cubs open Interleague Play against the Rangers.
Byrd and Soriano both played for the Rangers while Jaramillo was the team's hitting coach for 15 seasons. The Cubs kickoff the first round of Interleague games Friday at Texas, where they last played in 2007. The Rangers won that series, 2-1, and lead overall, 4-2.
After the weekend teaser, the Cubs return to National League play until June 11-13, when they begin the six-game showdown against the crosstown Chicago White Sox with three at Wrigley Field. This time, there's more than bragging rights on the line as the two teams battle for the BP Crosstown Cup. Whoever wins the yearly series will be presented the trophy, and if the two teams split, the cup will be awarded to the winner of the series' last game. The Cubs travel eight miles south to U.S. Cellular Field to play the White Sox on their turf June 25-27.
The Cubs' primary Interleague foes this year will be from the American League West. The A's come to Wrigley Field on June 15-17 and the Angels make their first trip to the friendly confines June 18-20. The Angels had the best Interleague record last season, going 14-4 against NL teams. The Cubs travel to Seattle on June 22-24, the second time they've made that junket and first since 2007.
Last season, the Cubs did not face an AL opponent until mid-June, when they played host to the Twins. Since Interleague Play began in 1997, Chicago is 90-97 against AL teams.
The Cubs have not had a winning Interleague record since 2007, when they were 8-4, which also was the last time they faced the AL West. Last year, they went 6-9 against the AL Central, including 2-4 against the White Sox.
Back to the Rangers. They lead the AL West, but still have to miss Byrd, who ranks among the NL leaders in hits, extra-base hits and batting average.
"It's going to be fun," said Byrd, who signed a three-year deal with the Cubs on New Year's Eve 2009. "I had three great years there. It's going to be great for me and of course, Rudy. He's spent his whole career there basically.
"We're going to be playing against some great friends and Ron Washington, my favorite manager, and I'm looking forward to seeing [coach] Gary Pettis. It's going to be better to go there and try to beat up on a good team, but at the same time, you always want to play well against the team you played for."
In his three seasons in Texas, Byrd batted .295, and he set a career high in 2009 with 20 homers. He's ahead of that pace this season, heading into Friday's game with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 16 doubles.
The last time the Cubs traveled to Arlington to face the Rangers, there was another connection: the club's all-time home run leader, Sammy Sosa, was Texas' designated hitter.
Cubs' Interleague Schedule
Jaramillo was the Rangers' hitting coach then. His hitters won 17 Silver Slugger Awards, three home run titles, three RBIs championships and a batting title. But the Rangers lead the AL West because of improved pitching this season, guided by coach Mike Maddux. He was the Brewers' pitching coach for six seasons, so he knows the Cubs.
Soriano played for the Rangers from 2004-05, batting a combined .274. He was a second baseman then. Soriano and Jaramillo were together then, and being reunited in Chicago has helped the left fielder, who ranks among the NL leaders in batting.
"I want to see my friends there, like Michael Young," Soriano said. "It's always good to go to that ballpark, because it's a nice ballpark to hit in."
The Cubs will open the series with Ted Lilly on Friday, followed by Randy Wells and Carlos Silva. Lilly has a career 4-4 record in 13 games (12 starts) against the Rangers, while Wells has never faced an AL team, and Silva also is 4-4 in 13 starts.
"I'm excited to go there," Lilly said. "It's fun to get a look at a lineup I'm not used to seeing, especially there in that ballpark. They've got some pretty talented hitters over there. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
Will he mind not hitting? The Cubs will use the designated hitter in the series.
"I think the guy we put in the DH spot will be more productive than I would be," Lilly said, smiling.
"It's going to be fun all around," Byrd said. "I'm anxious to see how I'll be received by the fans. When I got traded from [Philadelphia], they booed, which is fine. It's a respect thing. I'm excited to go back and enjoy the experience, because I had a great time there [in Texas]."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he'll take advantage of the designated hitter spot in the lineup in an AL ballpark and get Xavier Nady and Jeff Baker more at-bats.
"We'll probably DH Nady one day, and I can put Baker in right one day," Piniella said. "I haven't looked at the numbers yet -- lefty, righty -- to see how they can get people out. On Friday, if we wanted to, we could DH one of our regulars and give them a breather that way."
It's been tough for Nady, who has been slowed because of his right elbow. He's coming back from a second Tommy John surgery.
"He hasn't been able to play on a consistent basis," Piniella said. "He didn't really have what you'd classify as a full swing. He's a much better hitter than what the numbers show. I'm hoping some time in the not too distant future we'll start getting some production. The problem is getting him out on the field."
The AL does lead in Interleague Play since it began in 1997. Is the Junior Circuit better?
"We'll find out," Piniella said. "I guess by the middle or end of June, we'll know."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.