White Sox

Jeff Samardzija's one-hitter paces White Sox to win over Tigers


Jeff Samardzija's one-hitter paces White Sox to win over Tigers

DETROIT -- Welcome back, Jeff Samardzija.

Locked in the worst stretch of his career, the White Sox starter was a Victor Martinez bloop single away from perfection on Monday afternoon. Samardzija threw a one-hit shutout and Carlos Sanchez provided just enough offense as the White Sox downed the Detroit Tigers 2-0 at Comerica Park in Game 1 of a split doubleheader. Samardzija, who earned losses in eight of his previous nine starts, credited an adjustment he made after watching video of previous games as he needed only 88 pitches as he dominated a Miguel Cabrera-less Tigers offense.

“Me and (video coordinator Bryan Johnson) got together on the film between starts and think we found something that was essentially tipping my pitches, half the way,” Samardzija said. “When you find that, it gives you a little extra confidence.”

The final portion of the 2015 season has gone so poorly for Samardzija that the only time he wasn’t booed in his last home start on Tuesday was when Robin Ventura pulled him in the fourth inning.

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Since Aug. 2, Samardzija had a 9.24 earned-run average with 71 hits, 22 walks and 12 home runs allowed in 49 2/3 innings. But the same guy who opponents had a .336/.403/.621 slash line against in the previous nine games cruised in the opener of a four-game series against Detroit.

“He just seemed to be on today all the way through,” Ventura said. “Low pitch count. But just command and everything. He didn’t seem to fall behind. I think that was the biggest thing. He just didn’t give in.

“Obviously, the best game he’s pitched here this year.”

Not only was Samardzija efficient -- he never went to a three-ball count and only had nine at-bats in which he threw two balls -- he yielded few hard-hit balls. While Martinez erased Samardzija’s bid for perfection with an opposite-field bloop single in the fifth inning, no other Tigers reached base and they had a total of three-hard hit balls.

Samardzija struck out six and didn’t issue a walk.

“It was pretty obvious on a few things I was doing, especially for my fastball and when it was coming,” Samardzija said. “For me, it’s such a big pitch. I’m always throwing my fastball that if they know it’s coming it really takes an edge off what I’m doing out there. Hopefully we can continue to get better and keep watching film and make sure there’s no other things in there and if there is we can clean them up.”

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The right-hander said he isn’t usually big on watching footage of his performances. But given the way teams had teed off on his fastball of late (.360 since Aug. 2, per brooksbaseball.net), Samardzija worked closely with Johnson between starts.

“I try to be an in-game guy,” Samardzija said. “But there are some times where you need to get out there and maybe watch an old game when you did really well or watch the past game and what happened. For me that was the case. I needed to go back to my last couple of starts and see why good pitches were getting tattooed. It’s not a fun feeling so you definitely want to fix it as fast as possible.”

Sanchez helped to make the effort stand up with a 3-for-3 showing. He and Adam Eaton helped give Samardzija take the lead in the third inning when Sanchez doubled with two outs and scored ahead of Steven Moya’s throw home on Eaton’s RBI single.

Sanchez blasted a solo homer to leftcenter in the sixth inning off Kyle Ryan, who allowed two earned runs and six hits in seven innings.

“(Samardzija) was outstanding,” Sanchez said through an interpreter. “He deserved all of the credit for this win. We are there to help all of our pitchers and try to get some wins. It was very, very good today for him.”

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