White Sox

Cool as a cucumber, Reynaldo Lopez stayed calm to pick up his first White Sox win


Cool as a cucumber, Reynaldo Lopez stayed calm to pick up his first White Sox win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kauffman Stadium crowd was fired up in the fifth inning Monday night, the enthusiasm of Royals fans growing with each hit.

The momentum built every time Kansas City scored as the Royals quickly closed the gap from five runs to two. But even as the chaos continued around him, White Sox rookie Reynaldo Lopez was the picture of calm on the mound.

Since he arrived in the big leagues last month, the White Sox have noticed their prized pitching prospect is unflappable when it comes to big moments. When everyone else’s pulse is increasing, Lopez is cool as a cucumber, trying to figure out how to escape the jam he’s in. The belief is that this poise displayed by Lopez — who earned his first White Sox victory with six-plus strong innings on Monday — will pay great dividends as he makes his way through the American League for the first time.

“He’s truly very focused on what his game plan is and how he’s going to attack hitters,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he does trust his stuff. I think he’s very self-critical, you can see it after a walk when he comes into the dugout. He’s upset with himself for not having executed certain things. But he keeps it under control understanding in his head what he’s going to do next time in that particular situation. The demeanor is very poised for a person of his age.”

While it doesn’t have the same rock concert-type atmosphere as Dodger Stadium, Kauffman is no joke when the crowd gets going. The White Sox have seen the park’s effect many times in recent years, notably in last season’s Memorial Day Weekend meltdown. One hit gets the boisterous crowd going, and before you know it an avalanche of noise is headed your way.

Lopez got his first taste in the fifth as his five-run lead nearly evaporated.

Brandon Moss blasted a solo homer to make it a 5-1 game. Kauffman then started to buzz when Alex Gordon singled with one out and the volume increased substantially when Whit Merrifield hit a run-scoring triple. Merrifield’s hit brought Don Cooper to the mound for a visit and yet even that didn’t stop the bleeding as Lorenzo Cain followed with a run-scoring single.

As much as the situation seemed to be getting out of hand, Lopez didn’t rattle. He instead made a quick adjustment and retired Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer to escape with the two-run lead.

“It gets pretty loud,” catcher Omar Narvaez said. “But he’s the same guy. The only thing I saw was he was leaving the arm behind, which left the ball up. But he made the adjustment to come back and get everybody else.

“He’s just been the same guy, trying to attack the zone and make them swing. That’s why he’s effective because first of all he throws strikes and second he makes everybody swing. That’s the most important for a pitcher.”

Lopez followed with a six-run White Sox rally in the sixth with another important aspect of pitching — a quick inning. The right-hander bounced back from a lengthy fifth with a seven-pitch sixth inning. The quick frame kept Lopez’s pitch count down enough where the White Sox brought him back for the seventh inning on a hitter-by-hitter basis. Lopez allowed a leadoff single in the seventh and was pulled immediately, but would have continued on had he recorded an out.

“I just tried harder to keep my focus, to not lose my focus on the game in (the fifth inning),” Lopez said through an interpreter. “And I was able to do that, and that’s why I was able to get out of that situation.”

Renteria thinks it’s partly because of who Lopez is and in part because of his previous major league experience. The way Lopez has operated so far has impressed the White Sox manager.

“I do think one of things he does have is a tremendous confidence about him,” Renteria said. “He’s not an arrogant person. He’s a person that keeps it within and knows how to go out there and kind of control his emotions a little bit. He’s very good at doing it right now.”

White Sox name James Shields as Opening Day starter

White Sox name James Shields as Opening Day starter

The White Sox have announced who will toe the rubber when the season begins later this month.

As expected, James Shields will be the team's Opening Day starting pitcher when the White Sox kick off the 2018 campaign against the Kansas City Royals on March 29 at Kauffman Stadium.

The starting rotation's elder statesman at 36, Shields seemed the logical pick for the first start of the season.

It's been a rough go for the one-time All Star since he came to the South Side in a trade with the San Diego Padres in the summer of 2016. In two seasons with the White Sox, he's got a 5.99 ERA with 181 strikeouts and 58 home runs allowed in 231.1 innings. Last season, he made 21 starts, finishing with a 5.23 ERA and 103 strikeouts and 27 home runs allowed in 117 innings.

While that trade still smarts considering the player the White Sox gave up, Fernando Tatis Jr., is currently ranked as the No. 8 prospect in baseball, Shields brings plenty of value to the 2018 rotation as a veteran mentor for young major leaguers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as pitchers making their way to the big leagues like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dylan Cease.

If Shields could rediscover some of the magic that made him a great pitcher during his best years with the Tampa Bay Rays and the aforementioned Royals, with whom he made World Series trips in 2008 and 2014, respectively, and have a strong couple months out of the chute, he could provide Rick Hahn's front office with a midseason trade piece, someone who could potentially fetch a prospect or two that could help advance the franchise's rebuilding efforts.

The Royals have announced that it will be Danny Duffy opposing Shields on Opening Day.

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?

What’s there to know about the Houston Astros?

They’re the best, that’s what there is to know.

The Astros are the defending world champions for a multitude of reasons, and it’s all those and more that will have them as a favorite to repeat in 2018. Yes, the Cubs and New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians will all have something to say about that. But right now, no team is better on paper than the team the just won the big enchilada not five months ago.

The best 1-2 starting-pitching in combo in baseball? It belongs to the Astros. Justin Verlander was sensational for them after coming over in a late-summer trade with the Detroit Tigers. All he did was post a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts and a 2.21 ERA in six postseason outings. Justin Verlander. Again. And then there’s his running mate Dallas Keuchel — who doesn’t like the Cubs very much, apparently — has been just as good. He had a 2.90 ERA last year and won the American League Cy Young in 2015 with a 2.48 ERA and 20 wins.

Get past those guys and you’ll have to face the new guy. Gerrit Cole is now an Astro, as well, the reigning champs bolstering their already excellent rotation by importing one of the National League’s best pitchers. Cole saw his numbers jump last year (4.26 ERA) but still almost had 200 strikeouts and now has a much better roster around him than the one he left in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Morton? He threw four one-run innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Lance McCullers? He had 2.1 shutout innings in Game 7 of the World Series. This rotation is a force that could mow down the AL. There are questions, sure, but this five is entering 2018 as the best collection of arms in the Junior Circuit.

And we haven’t even gotten to the hitting. Oh, the hitting! The Astros scored 34 runs in seven World Series games. They banged out 56 hits. They hit 15 home runs. This after they were baseball’s best offense during the regular season.

The names are obvious to anyone who watched the postseason. Jose Altuve, surely tired of all the short jokes, is arguably the best player in baseball, and he won the AL MVP last season with a ridiculous .346/.410/.547 slash line. Carlos Correa, perhaps baseball’s best young shortstop, had a .315/.391/.550 slash line. George Springer, your World Series MVP, hit 34 regular-season home runs and got on base at a .367 clip before hitting five homers and slashing .379/.471/.1.000 in the Fall Classic.

Then there’s Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez, who were all very good to great in 2017. They shouldn’t all be expected to do what they did last season — you need look no further than the Cubs to see what a deep World Series run can do to a team, especially early. But is there a better lineup than this in the AL? Anyone? Bueller?

It’s hard to repeat, and “hard” is becoming one heck of an understatement considering no one’s repeated in almost two decades. The Yankees last did it when they beat the broken-bat-throwing Mike Piazza and the New York Mets in the 2000 World Series. Since then, no one’s done it twice in a row.

Last year, most of us looked at the Cubs and said, “They have the best team, they are favorites to do it again.” And then they were not even in first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. A similar fate could await the Astros. But right now, they look like the best team the AL has to offer.

Houston, you are clear for takeoff ... again.

2017 record: 101-61, first place in AL West, World Series champions

Offseason additions: Gerrit Cole, , Joe Smith, Hector Rondon

Offseason departures: Carlos Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Mike Fiers, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano

X-factor: The Astros now count one-time Cubs closer Hector Rondon among their relievers now, but the X-factor pick here is Bregman. After a fine but nothing special first half, he was one of baseball's best after the All-Star break last year, slashing .315/.367/.536 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half.

Projected lineup:

1. George Springer, CF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
7. Brian McCann, C
8. Evan Gattis, DH
9. Derek Fisher, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Justin Verlander
2. Dallas Keuchel
3. Gerrit Cole
4. Lance McCullers
5. Charlie Morton

Prediction: First place in AL West

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants