White Sox

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Boston Red Sox?

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USA TODAY

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Boston Red Sox?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Boston Red Sox?

J.D. MARTINEZ! BUH! BUH! BUH!

HE HITS HOME RUNS SO VERY FAR! SO FAR! SO FAR!

Arguably the biggest bat on this winter’s free-agent market, Martinez signed, albeit late, with the BoSox, a drastically needed addition to a lineup that ranked 27th out of 30 big league teams when it came to hitting home runs last season. Well, Martinez hit 45 of ‘em last year, so expect that ranking to improve in 2018.

Martinez has been cranking dingers for a while now, smacking 23 in 2014, 38 in 2015 and 22 in an injury-shortened 2016 before last season’s homer-explosion. He hit 16 in 57 games with the Detroit Tigers before getting dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks, hitting 29 more and helping the Snakes reach the postseason. That’s right, math fans, he hit 45 homers in just 119 games. As the Red Sox designated hitter, he’s expected to play in a few more this season.

Despite its lack of Monstah-clearing power in 2017, the BoSox lineup was still pretty good before it welcomed JDMar (gotta be a better nickname than that, right?), boasting the likes of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and other players, not all of whom have last names that begin with the letter “B.”

And then there’s Chris Sale.

CHRIS SALE’S SO GOOD! BUH! BUH! BUH!

HE THROWS STRIKES SO VERY FAST! SO FAST! SO FAST!

Yes, the former White Sox ace just about struck out the entire universe last season and is, no joke, baseball’s all-time leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He finished in the top six in American league Cy Young voting for the sixth straight season last year, in the top five for the fifth straight season.

David Price was injured for much of last season and made only 11 starts, but he had just a 3.38 ERA when he was healthy enough to pitch, lowering that figure from nearly 4.00 in his first season in Boston in 2016. And Kate Upton can tweet whatever she wants, it doesn’t change the fact that Rick Porcello won the Cy Young two years ago. Past those three guys, the rest of the rotation is a walking disabled list. Drew Pomeranz, who was great last season, is questionable for the start of the season. Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez might miss the opening stretch, as well. That puts some pressure on guys like Price and Porcello to get off to good starts, Price needing to stay on the field and Porcello needing to be more 2016-y than 2017-y.

Oh, and the BoSox have perhaps baseball’s best ninth-inning man in Craig Kimbrel. He’s got 291 career saves in eight seasons! Wowzers.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE YANKEES? BUH! BUH! BUH!

THEY’VE GOT STANTON AND THE JUDGE! SO SCARED! SO SCARED!

While things seem to stack up pretty good for the folks hangin’ around on Lansdowne, those pesky Bronx Bombers are going to be pretty tough to top. Their acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton was baseball’s biggest this offseason, and that 1-2 punch of Stanton and Judge — not to mention the rest of that lineup — is as scary as it gets.

When you've got Sale, though, to throw against them? Well, that’s pretty scary, too.

2017 record: 93-69, first place in AL East, lost in ALDS

Offseason additions: J.D. Martinez

Offseason departures: Rajai Davis, Chris Young, Doug Fister, Blaine Boyer, Addison Reed

X-factor: Rafael Devers was a big-deal prospect when he got called up last season. He played in only 58 big league games with the BoSox but impressed, slashing .284/.338/.482 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs. Given a full season to do his thing, Devers ought to be a key piece of a good-looking Boston lineup.

Projected lineup:

1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
3. Hanley Ramirez, 1B
4. J.D. Martinez, DH
5. Xander Bogaerts, SS
6. Rafael Devers, 3B
7. Eduardo Nunez, 2B
8. Christian Vazquez, C
9. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

Dustin Pedroia could miss the start of the season due to injury.

Projected rotation:

1. Chris Sale
2. David Price
3. Rick Porcello
4. Brian Johnson
5. Hector Velazquez

Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright could all miss the start of the season due to injury.

Prediction: Second place in AL East, AL wild card

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets
Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates

 

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

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USA TODAY

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'

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AP

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.