White Sox

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

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USA TODAY

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

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 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
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

Daily White Sox prospects update: Eloy Jimenez hitless no more after crushing two home runs

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Eloy Jimenez hitless no more after crushing two home runs

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Double-A Birmingham

Remember how Eloy Jimenez had yet to pick up his first hit of the 2018 season? Yeah, not anymore. Jimenez smacked a pair of solo home runs in the first of two games Birmingham played Monday.

That's an exciting sight for rebuild-loving White Sox fans, of course. The two dingers came in a 9-5 loss, but Jimenez added a single in the second game, a 6-0 win. Seby Zavala also homered in Game 2, and Jordan Stephens threw six scoreless innings.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had a hit and a walk in a 5-3 win.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez had a walk and an RBI in a 3-0 win.

Yo-Yo and the Big Elephant: Now this is the show South Side fans have been waiting for

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AP

Yo-Yo and the Big Elephant: Now this is the show South Side fans have been waiting for

Yo-Yo and the Big Elephant sound like characters from your kid’s favorite show (or your favorite show, if you happen to be a kid).

But instead they’re the duo South Side baseball fans have been waiting for.

You might know them better as the Cuban Connection, an alliterative and far less confusing nickname that describes Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu, who in Monday night’s 10-4 win over the visiting Seattle Mariners combined for seven hits, three home runs, a double, a triple, six runs scored and four RBIs.

It was a welcome sight after the White Sox offense slumbered through a weekend series with the Houston Astros in which they mustered just two runs. Heck, this offense has been hard to find during the entire month of April. Entering Monday, it’d produced just 16 runs in its last seven games (with 11 of those coming in a single contest).

But then came Monday’s show, in which Abreu launched a pair of homers and Moncada came a single short of hitting for the cycle. That had to be a proud moment for Abreu, who’s taken his countryman under his wing since Moncada arrived in the majors last summer.

“I’m really mad at him because he had two chances to do it and he couldn’t,” Abreu joked with the help of a translator. “Seriously, I’m really happy for him. I know today was a special game for him. I know he couldn’t hit for the cycle today. But he’s going to have more chances in the future. He’s going to be good.”

This is what White Sox fans have been hoping for. It’s what they’re still waiting for, considering much of that oft-discussed team of the future is still developing in the minor leagues. But Moncada is the story of 2018 at the major league level, how development will continue for the player White Sox fans drooled over at this time last year, when he was ranked as baseball’s top prospect.

Moncada got a lot of early attention for his high strikeout total, and with another punch out Monday he’s now got 34 on the season, still one of the highest totals in the league. But his numbers are looking good in many other facets. He raised his batting average .026 points Monday alone, and he’s now slashing .240/.345/.493 on the still-young season.

Abreu, of course, is the White Sox best hitter and has been ever since he arrived from Cuba before the 2014 season. For a team in such an offensive rut, Abreu’s four-hit night Monday raised his batting average up over .300, to .308. He’s now got six homers on the season, the most on the team and one of the higher totals in the American League. While Moncada and others will spend 2018 showing the White Sox what they will be in the future, this was expected from a guy who’s been one of baseball’s most consistent hitters in the last half decade.

But the future comes into play with Abreu, too, whose consistency at the plate and his presence in the clubhouse as a mentor to Moncada and other young players make him as believable a part of those planned future contenders as any of the organization’s highly rated prospects. A contract decision will need to be made at some point, obviously, but the White Sox will tell you any day of the week how much they value Abreu, who knows exactly where this franchise is and is excited as anyone about where it’s going.

“Everybody knows we are in the process, and everybody knows what this process is about,” Abreu said. “We have a lot of young talent, a lot of young players. They are going to hit some bumps and have some struggles as a team. But I think we all know how we have to play this game. (Manager Rick Renteria) has taught us how to play this game, how to play this game representing the White Sox organization and how they play this game.

“I feel really happy. We prove today that we are able to play a good game and to show the rest how we win games. That is the way we like to play.”

Monday was a bright spot in what’s been an otherwise very tough start to the 2018 campaign. But for a team where the future is what matters most, this is what fans have been waiting to see. A game like this might not be commonplace as the summer rolls on on the South Side. But for those dreaming about Moncada and Abreu teaming to lead those contenders of the future, this was one heck of a glimpse into the crystal ball.

“That’s our goal to have big games together for this team,” Moncada said. “Having the opportunity to play with Abreu — ‘The Big Elephant’ as we call him in Cuba — it’s good for me. It’s a big honor. I feel really happy when we have these kinds of games.”