White Sox

Giants players thrive in All-Star Game

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Giants players thrive in All-Star Game

From Comcast SportsNet
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Matt Cain helped the National League to a Giant blowout in the All-Star game. After all the talk about AL dominance during an offseason when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder switched leagues, the NL romped to an 8-0 victory over the American League on Tuesday night. The World Series will start in the city of the NL champion for the third straight year. "It's a nice edge," the NL's Tony La Russa said after his final game as a manager. Flashing their bright orange spikes and booming bats, the San Francisco sluggers keyed a five-run blitz against Justin Verlander in the first inning. Cabrera homered and won the MVP award in the ballpark where he played last season, and Cain got the win in the NL's most-lopsided All-Star victory. "I didn't come to win an MVP. That's just a surprise," the former Royals outfielder said, his mother and grandmother next to him. "The same opportunity that Kansas City gave me last year is the same opportunity that San Francisco is giving me every day to showcase my talent." Chipper Jones singled in his final All-Star at-bat at age 40. Ryan Braun, an All-Star again after his drug suspension was overturned last winter, doubled, tripled and made a fine catch in the outfield to help give the NL its first three-game winning streak in two decades. Teen sensation Bryce Harper had a shaky All-Star debut with a walk, strikeout and missed catch. Fellow rookie Mike Trout, only 20, showed off his dynamic skills. Cain combined with Stephen Strasburg, R.A. Dickey, Aroldis Chapman and the rest of a lights-out staff on a six-hitter. The game was pretty much decided a few moments after it started. Sandoval hit the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history off Verlander, who couldn't control his 100 mph heat. Cabrera singled and scored the first run, then hit a two-run homer against Matt Harrison in a three-run fourth. "I don't get many triples," said the slow-footed Sandoval, known as Kung Fu Panda. "We had some fun with that in the dugout." San Francisco fans, who made a late voting push to elect Sandoval and Cabrera to starting spots, might really appreciate the victory come October. The Giants are a half-game behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West. Rafael Furcal also hit a three-bagger, making the NL the first league with three in an All-Star game. As the All-Stars returned to Kansas City for the first time since 1973, La Russa bid farewell to the national stage in the city where he played for his first major league team. Having retired after managing St. Louis to last year's World Series title, La Russa became just the fourth inactive manager to skipper an All-Star team and improved to 4-2. "Just lucky, like I've been 30 years," La Russa said. The NL boosted its advantage to 43-38-2 and won for just the third time in the 10 years the All-Star game has been used to determine home-field advantage in the World Series. La Russa's Cardinals benefited from last year's NL All-Star victory, with St. Louis winning Games 6 and 7 at home against Ron Washington's Texas Rangers. "It's very disappointing, because we're competitors and we want to win," said Washington, who lost for the second straight year. "They came out. They swung the bats. Once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done." Jones, retiring at the end of the season, also had one last All-Star moment, pinch hitting in the sixth and singling just past second baseman Ian Kinsler and into right field. Jones chuckled as the ball rolled through. La Russa asked Jones to address the team before the game and the Atlanta third baseman told players: "Whether you're 19 or 40, we are all equals here." "I am not going out losing my last one. So, you with me?" he added. At 19 the youngest position player in All-Star history, Harper had a shaky start when he entered in the fifth. The heralded rookie, wearing shiny gold shoes, didn't flash a Gold Glove and lost Mike Napoli's routine fly to left in the lights, allowing it to drop behind him for a single. Harper then caught Kinsler's bases-loaded flyball to end the inning, earning applause from the crowd of 40,933 at Kauffman Stadium, spruced up by a 250 million renovation that was completed three years ago. Harper tagged up on a long fly after his walk in the fifth, but got himself hung up in a rundown and tagged out. Trout, among a record five All-Star rookies, had a nice showing against two very different pitchers. The Angels outfielder singled and stole a base against Dickey's knuckleball, then drew a walk against Chapman and his 101 mph heat. "I'm going to remember this the rest of my life," Trout said. Cain pitched the 22nd perfect game in big league history last month. He didn't have to be perfect in this one, allowing one hit in two innings for the win. "For those guys to go out and score five runs in the first inning was definitely a little more relaxing for me," he said. "But I still tried to stay focused." Cain was followed by 10 relievers, with Jonathan Papelbon getting the last out with a runner on third base. Verlander had a puzzling outing. In games that count, he hasn't allowed five runs in an inning since April 2010, according to STATS LLC. He became the first All-Star to give up a five-spot since Houston's Roger Clemens in front of his hometown fans in 2004. "I know this game means something and you don't want to give up runs, but we're here for the fans," Verlander said. "I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners." In a 35-pitch inning, he threw five pitches clocked at 100 mph and another at 101. "Hitting 100 in the first inning? Normally you see the guy throw 93, 94 in the first and then hit 100 in the eighth. We saw him hit 101," Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. "The funniest part was Fielder said to him, Hit 101' and the next pitch he hit 101. Is it that easy?" La Russa, usually serious and tense after games, was playful after his finale, chanting "Mel-ky! Mel-ky! Mel-ky!" as the MVP walked to the podium. "If you're trying to win one game, there's not a better manager out there," Braun said. "It's only fitting that he went out with a win." NOTES: The NL extended the AL's scoreless streak to 14 innings -- its longest drought since 1995-97. ... The NL won for just the sixth time in a quarter-century. ... The NL had last won three straight in 1994-96. ... It was the first All-Star shutout since the NL's 6-0 win in 1996 at Philadelphia. ... The Giants' Barry Bonds was MVP of the '73 game.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.