White Sox

All-Star games battle for nation's best

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All-Star games battle for nation's best

Originally, there was only one national high school All-Star football game. Then there were two. Now there are three, and counting.

All of which means the sponsors of the three events--U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and Under Armour--are battling for the nation's top players as if it was a month before national signing day.

Who's going to play for whom?

The U.S. Army traditionally announces its roster before anyone else. Its 2013 squad includes only one Illinois product, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He has at least 19 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, USC, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska.

The Marines-sponsored Semper Fidelis game has landed commitments from Michigan-bound offensive tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual and the state's two top-rated quarterbacks, Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South.

But USC-bound Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, the No. 1 running back in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, and LSU-bound offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont, both of whom originally had committed to Semper Fidelis, changed their minds and decided to compete in the Under Armour game.

The Marines also have invited offensive tackles Jack Keeler of Barrington, who is committed to Wisconsin, Notre Dame-bound Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Kendall Moore of Simeon, defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and Illinois-bound running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods.

Augusta, who played on Peoria Central's Class 3A championship team, has emerged as one of the top prospects in Illinois in a relative short period of time.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has 11 offers, including Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Memphis, Missouri, Nebraska and California. He also is attracting interest from Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State and Ohio State.

After heading the selection committee for the U.S. Army game for several years, Lemming knows it is important to nail down commitments as quickly as possible, even more importantly when there are three All-Star games competing against one another for the nation's best talent. He can't understand why the Marines haven't pulled the trigger faster than they have.

Sean Berry, CEO of Junior Rank Sports and founder of the U.S. Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, admits the Marines' approach has been slow. But he predicts "big plans for this year." The game, which was played for the first time last year in Phoenix, is likely to move to Los Angeles this year and will be televised on NFL Network.

"We're getting the best football players, what people saw last year," Berry said. "They may not be the best ranked players (according to most recruiting services) but they are more competitive."

Berry pointed out that Lemming, chairman of the Marines' selection committee, picks players with NFL potential, not necessarily because they are ranked among the top 100 in the nation. For example, Bosch is rated as the No. 1 guard in the country based on his NFL potential.

Berry admits he is disappointed by Isaac's decision. Isaac has been involved in Berry's Junior Rank program since eighth grade. He attended the Marines' combine in Phoenix last January and Berry has a good relationship with Isaac's parents.

"Kids make decisions for a lot of different reasons," Berry said. "I don't think you'll see more than three high school all-star games. But, to be successful, you have to be that authoritative entity to say you can accumulate the best collection of players.

"How do you do that? Look at Tom Lemming's track record in terms of finding the best athletes. But some organizations throw a lot of free gear at a kid, as much as 2,000 worth. Sometimes kids are persuaded by the fact the game is being played in Florida. We think a lot of West Coast kids will be persuaded to participate in the Semper Fidelis game."

Meanwhile, Berry is planning for the future. He already is building relationships with four young and promising prospects in the Chicago area--6-foor-2, 240-pound freshman tackle Brennan Bosch, 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore wide receiver Brannon Barry and eighth-grade quarterback Justin Berry of St. Charles East and 6-foot-6, 250-pound eighth-grade tackle Eric Swenson of Downers Grove South.

Brennan Bosch is Kyle Bosch's brother, and Michigan is already expressing interest in him. Barry already is attracting interest from Oklahoma. Berry, Sean Berry's son, took an unofficial visit to West Virginia recently.

In the business of all-star football games, like recruiting, it is never too early to evaluate talent.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."