Chicago White Sox: Why the Royals will be the top rival in ’15


Apr 9, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) at bat against the Chicago White Sox during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Rivalries are the bread and butter of the sports world, and one is forming right before our eyes at the outset of this very young 2015 season.

When you think about the Chicago White Sox and rivalries, it’s easy to think about the Minnesota Twins, whose rivalry with the White Sox boiled throughout the 2000s and culminated in an epic one game playoff for the AL Central in 2008.

The rivalry has lost some of its glimmer in recent years as the Twins have cratered to the bottom of the AL Central, and the White Sox haven’t been much better.

Sure, the Detroit Tigers and White Sox have had their share of contentious moments in the early part of the decade, with the Tigers stealing a postseason spot from the White Sox in the final week of the 2012 season. Then of course, there’s the whole sign-stealing incident that occurred between Chris Sale and Victor Martinez last year.

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You also can’t discount the crosstown rivalry between the White Sox and the Chicago Cubs, and while that match-up hit rock bottom in allure last season, it’s poised to be much more compelling this year with both teams looking to grab playoff spots and with Jeff Samardzija now on the South Side.

What’s interesting is that none of those aforementioned teams look like they’ll be the White Sox’s biggest rival by the time August roles around. That distinction belongs to the Kansas City Royals, and rightfully so.

The White Sox are 28-49 against the Royals since the start of the 2011 season, and it’s no secret that the pesky team from Kansas City played a big role in keeping the White Sox out of the postseason in 2012 as the South Siders went 6-12 against them that year, losing a few key games to their division foes down the stretch.

Rivalries have a lot to do with how teams are aligned, and in this case the White Sox and Royals are on a crash course.

Both teams want to dethrone the Tigers as the kings of the AL Central, and if anything both clubs at least want a trip to the postseason, even if it’s via a wildcard. With the current strength of the AL Central, that latter route might just come down to these two franchises.

While it may seem surprising that bad blood is starting to spill between these two teams, the storm started brewing in the offseason, and it wasn’t even by the White Sox’s design.

Chicago had an eye-popping winter, as Rick Hahn systematically made impact move after impact move. In contrast, the Royals saw two key pieces in Billy Butler and James Shields slip away in free agency.

Suddenly, when pundits began releasing preseason predictions, the Tigers were the favorites, the White Sox were on-paper contenders, Cleveland became the trendy division pick, and well that team from Kansas City, the one who fell a single run short of a World Series championship, they were widely overlooked.

The White Sox and Royals are on a crash course

The Royals felt disrespected. They felt like they had something to prove and that mentality held large in their first series with Chicago.

The Royals wanted to send a message, and that message came after Jeff Samardzija’s own message pitch on Opening Day.

Immediately after surrendering a home run to Mike Moustakus, Jeff Samardzija plunked Lorenzo Cain. Cain took umbrage right out of the gate but began his trot to first base. It wasn’t until Samardzija motioned Cain to move towards the bag that the centefielder started to take a few steps in the direction of the right-hander instead.

The umpires handled the situation well, and the benches didn’t empty entirely. Although, the Royals did begin to move over the guard rail, with Moustakus being one of the most vocal in Cain’s defense.

After the game, Cain was convinced there was intent, as outlined here by Matthew DeFranks of Fox Sports in his postgame article:

"“‘I gave him a look, I wasn’t sure if he hit me on purpose or not,’ Cain said. ‘But once he told me to get down, I was sure he hit me on purpose. Straight to the point. Beating him the way we did today definitely makes up for it.'”"

Apr 8, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (6) is hit by a pitch by Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana (not shown) in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s certainly true that Samardzija’s actions gave the Royals some offensive fire as they put the game away. The Royals got their revenge by scoring, but Jose Quintana stirred the pot further when he hit Cain on the ankle the following day.

Royals pitcher Danny Duffy retaliated by throwing a pitch behind Chicago slugger Adam LaRoche shortly after. My issue with Duffy’s message pitch is that it was dangerously close to LaRoche’s head. In a the name of an eye-for-an-eye, Duffy took the phrase too literally.

LaRoche stared down Duffy and both benches were warned. He responded with a double, a nod to retaliating with the bat instead of from the mound.

Quintana would later hit Mike Moustakus and remain in the game despite the preceding warning. LaRoche was hit by a pitch the subsequent day, possibly in retaliation to the Moustakus beaning. It was irrelevant though, because the outcome remained the same. The Royals swept the White Sox in three games.

The series had a playoff atmosphere to it. It may have been because it was the first game played in Kauffman Stadium since the World Series or rather was the result of the competitive barometer between these two teams starting to heat up. The Royals took satisfaction in tainting the White Sox’s start, while the South Siders may have taken it a little too personally.

The fact remains though: The White Sox want to beat the Royals.

In fact, they probably want to give them a taste of their own medicine. I can guarantee that when Samardzija faces the Royals later this month at home, the already fiery starter will have even more intensity than usual on the mound.

I corresponded with CSN contributor JJ Stankevitz on Twitter after he tweeted about Cain seeing the White Sox and Kansas City as a “budding rivalry.” I agreed and Stankevitz responded saying:

"“Circle that series at the end of the month in Chicago.”"

The series he is referring to starts on Thursday, April 23rd and carries through the weekend. I think this four-game set will be a good indication of whether or not the HBP war will persist.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Royals targeted Abreu the next time around. That is the inherent danger associated with entering into these types of battles.

Simply put, the agendas of these two teams clash. While the Royals want respect, the White Sox want the same credibility and unfortunately for both clubs those goals are not mutually exclusive. They’ll have to fight each other for the other contender’s niche in the Central, especially if the Detroit Tigers continue their hot streak.

Samardzija sparked a rivalry when he hit Cain, but one that White Sox fans should be able to enjoy for the rest of the season.