White Sox

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.

Reynaldo Lopez, for better or for worse, is doing one heck of a Jose Quintana impression for the White Sox


Reynaldo Lopez, for better or for worse, is doing one heck of a Jose Quintana impression for the White Sox

Darrell Hammond does a great Bill Clinton. Will Ferrell does a great George W. Bush. And Reynaldo Lopez does a great Jose Quintana.

Lopez obviously isn’t trying to impersonate the former White Sox starting pitcher now throwing on the North Side of town, but the resemblance, at least in the box score, has been uncanny through Lopez’s first four outings of the 2018 season — for better or for worse.

The better is what’s most promising for the rebuilding White Sox. Quintana was an All-Star pitcher before he was shipped to the Cubs in last summer’s crosstown swap. Maybe Lopez could earn similar recognition this summer, as there’s little argument that he’s been the White Sox best pitcher in the early going this season.

He dropped his ERA to 1.50 with five innings of one-run ball Sunday. That sparkling ERA, one of the 10 lowest among American League starting pitchers, comes from allowing just four earned runs in 25 innings of work. His strikeout-to-walk ratio could use some improvement, with 23 punch outs and 15 free passes on the year.

Sunday was more of the good stuff, with the visiting Houston Astros — the defending champs, mind you — doing little damage on the scoreboard against Lopez, even though he put a bunch of guys on base, including four via the walk. It’s quite impressive considering what the same lineup did to his teammates in the two days prior, scoring seven runs against James Shields on Friday and nine against Lucas Giolito on Saturday. Lopez also admitted he had a pretty nasty stomachache that he pitched through Sunday.

“I feel good about my performance today," Lopez said. "I wasn’t feeling very good physically, have a stomachache. But I felt good during the game. My focus was just to try to get guys out, and I think in that manner, it was good.”

But in true Quintanian fashion, Lopez received just one run of support and remains winless on the campaign despite four very solid performances. Sunday, Lopez left with the score tied at 1. The White Sox ended up losing 7-1 in the third of three blowout losses this weekend to one of the best teams in the game.

Quintana, perhaps even more than for his pitching prowess, was known for his ridiculously bad luck when it came to run support. It’s why he didn’t rack up way more wins than he should have during his time on the South Side and perhaps why he didn’t get the same recognition as his fellow All-Star rotation-mate Chris Sale.

Unfortunately for Lopez, he’s following a similar trend.

In the four games Lopez has started this season, the White Sox have scored a total of four runs. And last year wasn’t much better while he was on the mound. He logged quality starts in three of his first four outings after coming up from Triple-A in mid August but didn’t get his first win with the White Sox until his fifth start. He won just three games despite recording quality starts in five of his eight outings.

None of this means Lopez won’t start racking up wins once the White Sox reach the apex of their rebuilding effort and plan on being perennial contenders. When players like Eloy Jimenez, Micker Adolfo, Luis Robert, Luis Alexander Basabe and more join this lineup, the run-support issue might not be an issue at all. Heck, that can all change long before those guys get to the South Side.

Right now, the White Sox have to be thrilled about what they’re seeing from Lopez, who along with Giolito came into the 2018 season as a young pitcher expected to make strides in his development at the major league level. While Giolito has struggled at the outset of the campaign, Lopez has done the opposite.

“It’s impressive for anyone, and in particular against a club like this that he faced today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “At the end of the day, it’s about execution and performance, and today he executed well enough to contain them to one run through five innings. He kept us in the ballgame.”

The rotation of the future is a crowded one, with Lopez, Giolito, Carson Fulmer, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning all battling for spots. Lopez has plenty of time to make his case, though he’s off to a great start in doing so.

“I’m always trying to improve, I’m always trying to make adjustments,” he said. “If I had a good outing, what I did in that outing, what I can do better for the next one. I’m always trying to improve and to find ways to get better. I think that’s the only way that you can be successful at this level.”

As losses pile up at rapid rate for White Sox, easy to see why this is 'the toughest part of the rebuild'


As losses pile up at rapid rate for White Sox, easy to see why this is 'the toughest part of the rebuild'

There’s not much that's surprising about the Houston Astros coming to South Side and blowing out the White Sox in three straight games. These are the defending champions, one of if not the best team in baseball, flexing their muscles against a White Sox team in the thick of a rebuild.

But while the past three games have been ugly — the White Sox were outscored 27-2 and out-hit 36-15 — this isn’t exactly a phenomenon that just popped up this weekend.

The White Sox have been outplayed ever since they left Kansas City at the close of March. They’re 2-14 in April. In their last seven games, three apiece against the Astros and Oakland Athletics and the lone game that wasn't snowed out against the Minnesota Twins, they’ve been outscored 61-16. On the season, only the torn-down Miami Marlins have a worse run differential than the White Sox mark of minus-56.

And that’s where the surprise comes in. The White Sox weren’t expected to be a championship contender in 2018. They’re rebuilding. But they weren’t expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball.

It’s still plenty early, of course, but the White Sox are a last-place team, jockeying with the equally disappointing Kansas City Royals for that distinction in the American League Central. The WHite Sox have just four wins, the second-lowest total in the majors behind the three-win Cincinnati Reds, who have already fired their manager.

This was always going to be a season of silver linings, and those have existed in guys like Reynaldo Lopez, Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson. But it’s not at all difficult to see why general manager Rick Hahn described this time as the hardest part of the rebuilding effort.

“Obviously we haven’t been thrilled with the wins and losses,” Hahn said before this series started Friday. “I mean we’ve made no secret that where we are as an organization, we haven’t shied away from the fact that we’re two years into a rebuild right now and that there’s going to be difficult stretches and that there’s going to be growing pains. That said, we’re all competitors, we’re all watching these games and wanting to see the team battle through and come out ahead, and when we don’t it’s frustrating. We don’t like experiencing these losses than any other White Sox fan.”

Hahn attempted to prepare fans and observers — and members of his own front office — for this moment throughout the offseason. When trade rumors involving Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado swirled around the White Sox during the Winter Meetings, he mentioned how the White Sox braintrust had to remind themselves, even, to be patient as their rebuilding plan unfolded.

They were patient then, and the reward was the retention of all the minor league talent Hahn acquired in 2016 and 2017. All those players are developing in the minor leagues and doing so in impressive ways. Checking the box scores from Charlotte, Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannpolis have become part of White Sox fans’ daily routines — and the development of prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and Luis Alexander Basabe, among others, has everyone excited for a bright future on the South Side.

But those players aren't here yet and won't be coming until they're absolutely ready. That means the present at the major league level is not yielding the results any baseball fan would hope. The fans have bought into the rebuild, there’s no denying that. But that doesn’t mean they’re content to watch their team lose 14 of 16.

“You heard me say too much at the end of last season that I suspect this year’s going to be one of the, perhaps the toughest part of the rebuild,” Hahn said. “We want to exhibit patience and allow these guys time to grow.

“Again, we’re all fundamentally competitors, we all want to win every ballgame. The way Ricky (Renteria) and the staff is extremely focused on trying to get these guys in the right position to win on a nightly basis and feeling that frustration when we don’t is right where you want them. At the same time, we talk about having the long-term view and seeing the positives that some of these young players are presenting this organization right now and where their growth and where their trajectories are likely headed.

“But we have to remind ourselves, there’s going to be 15-game stretches that are going to be frustrating like the last 15. There’s also going to be some that are going to be a little better than expected here over the course of the summer. When we inevitably go through another tough 15-game stretch, we’re probably going to have to reiterate a lot of what I’ve been saying since the end of last season about where we are and what our broader long-term goals are.”

White Sox fans are excited about those long-term goals, the long-term plans and the bright future Hahn and his front office have generated. They knew this kind of 2018 season at the major league level was part of the deal. But the frustration is real, too.

White Sox fans, know that Hahn & Co. share your pain.