Mets manager Jerry Manuel, who managed the White Sox from 1998 to 2003, recently said the Cubs-White Sox interleague rivalry is more intense among fans than the Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets.

That's likely because the Chicago rivalry has stronger socioeconomic roots - the more-affluent North Side (Cubs) vs. the working-class South Side (White Sox).

But for a rivalry to really have steam, it helps if both teams are serious pennant contenders. So far, both the Cubs and White Sox, who last night played the first of six games against each other, have issues. For these two offense-challenged teams, the motive for winning is about more than beating one another. It's about living up to lofty preseason expectations.

"We understand the hoopla around it for the fans and media," the Cubs' Derrek Lee said on MLB.com. "But for us, it's just a matter of getting back on track."

Former coach irritates Mets

Mets ace Johan Santana, who not long ago led the NL in earned-run average, has a 6.50 ERA in his last six starts. Former pitching coach Rick Peterson, who was fired last June, riled the Mets by saying on ESPN radio Monday he had heard rumors Santana is bothered by his surgically repaired left knee.

"How would Rick Peterson know what's going on with the Mets?" an unidentified Mets official said in the New York Post.

It has also been reported that Santana has been bothered by a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. But would a blister bother him for six starts?

"I've been battling through some soreness here and there earlier," Santana said. "But right now, I'm fine."

Rockies turnabout

The Colorado Rockies had an 11-game winning streak going into last night's game against the Rays, and a major reason has been the stunning improvement of their pitching.

Rockies starters are 10-0 with a 2.49 ERA during the streak, a dramatic change from before the streak, when Colorado was 10-3 in games in which it scored at least six runs. The Rockies had surpassed six runs just twice in their previous seven games.

Tampa Bay ended the streak last night, winning by 12-4.

Noteworthy

Infielder Tae-hyeok Nam, 18, became the first Korean high school player signed by the Dodgers. In 1994, the Dodgers made pitcher Chan Ho Park the first native of Korea to sign in the major leagues.. . . Dodgers manager Joe Torre appeared Monday on The Tonight Show and the host asked him if he felt there might be something "slightly awry" with Manny Ramirez. Torre responded, "I'm pretty naive, and I don't want to believe players do anything. When this came down about Manny, it was certainly a shock. Nobody is condoning the use of steroids in sports because it's a bad message to send to kids. But the thing about it, when you have a relationship with players, they're people."

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743
This article contains information from the Associated Press.