White Sox

Just like that, Cubs cant close it out for Dempster

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Just like that, Cubs cant close it out for Dempster

Ryan Dempster walked off the mound to a standing ovation, and really the Cubs couldnt have scripted this any better. Their Opening Day starter had outpitched Stephen Strasburg, and soon the fans would be chanting Kerry! Kerry!

For all the optimism and good headlines the Cubs generated over the winter, it was pretty quiet by the end on Thursday, when you heard fans muttering to themselves as they walked down the ramps toward the exits after a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Kerry Wood stood in front of his locker afterward and cut off a reporter who said you lose a game like this, and people are going to say these are the Cubs.

People or you? Wood said. We got a bunch of new faces in here, a new attitude and 161 left.

Theo Epstein has promised that his front office will be walled off from all the outside noise. But that doesnt mean Opening Day in Chicago wont be covered like its an NFL game.

These are the margins the Cubs will be working with, because of how their roster is constructed, and the way the winds blow into Wrigley Field the first few weeks of the season. They had borrowed against their bullpen last winter, but it still lined up for Wood and Carlos Marmol to get the final four outs.

Dempster was brilliant, taking a one-hitter into the eighth inning before leaving with a runner on and two outs. Manager Dale Sveum didnt get an argument: He actually said something comical: Yeah, thats not a bad move. I think if it was a calm day, (Ryan) Zimmerman would have had 900 feet of home runs.

Wood walked three consecutive batters, each on a 3-2 count, and allowed the game-tying run. He shook his head no when someone asked about his lighter workload in spring training, the idea being the bullets would be saved for the regular season.

Absolutely no excuses. I just didnt get it done, Wood said. Its just frustrating. Im frustrated for him, frustrated for the guys that worked hard today to give us a chance to win.

It had to be frustrating for the 41,176 fans who sat through the cold (41 degrees at first pitch). Marmol got two quick outs in the ninth before ex-Cub Chad Tracy lifted a ball to right field.

David DeJesus the first player Epstein signed last offseason got turned around, starting over his right shoulder before turning left and looking up into the sun. The ball bounced off the wall for a double.

A plus defender, DeJesus wrote it off as a good lesson on how to deal with Wrigley Field. By the time Ian Desmond lined Marmols slider into right, driving in the go-ahead run, Dempsters line (7.2 innings, one run on two hits, 10 strikeouts) was for nothing.

Im always comfortable handing the ball over to Woody, Dempster said. We want to win every game were out there, but especially Opening Day, when youre at home in front of all these great fans. Thats what hurts. When youre playing close games like that, when its 1-0, you realize how fast things can change.

I feel for Woody in that situation, I feel for Carlos, because Ive in both those seats before. Its not a fun feeling and I know theyre probably chomping at the bit to just get this day over with and get the ball back.

Just like that, the narrative shifted from the first victory of a new era, to a reporter asking Marmol about the feeling of dj vu.

You see a lot of new faces in here? Marmol said. Last year is over.

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

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USA TODAY

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

WASHINGTON, D.C. — You don’t need to be a headliner of one of the White Sox major trades to make an impact on the ongoing rebuilding effort.

The White Sox two representatives at Sunday’s Futures Game had one very big thing in common: Neither was the most talked-about player in the trades that brought them into the organization.

Luis Alexander Basabe was the No. 3 piece in the Chris Sale deal, overshadowed by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Dylan Cease was the No. 2 player in the Jose Quintana trade, overshadowed by Eloy Jimenez.

But as their selections to the Futures Game show, these guys weren’t just throw-ins. Cease is having a sensational season, the best campaign of any of the White Sox highest-rated pitching prospects. Basabe had a hot start to the season and showed his potential with a two-run homer on a 102 mph pitch in the third inning Sunday.

Rick Hahn’s talked all during this rebuild about his desire to make the White Sox farm system as deep as possible. Moncada, Kopech and Jimenez brought star power to the rebuild. Cease and Basabe have helped bring the depth.

“I love the fact that Dylan and Basabe are the two down there at the Futures Game, in part because — through no fault of their own — in their own transactions, publicly, they got a little bit overshadowed by the headliners, so to speak, in those deals,” Hahn said last week. “But the Quintana trade doesn’t happen without Dylan Cease being part of it. He was a very important part of that for us, and we’re thrilled to see him getting some recognition for his ability and his accomplishments, and the Futures Game honor is very fitting.

“Basabe, obviously, was overshadowed in the Sale trade by Moncada and Kopech, and they’re bigger names, but our scouts felt very strongly about his upside and what his tool set presented. And you saw it at Winston-Salem, the way he was able to perform at an All-Star level there.

“It’s nice to see guys who might not be at the top of mind for people when they think of our system being recognized in that way and certainly for those two guys, who were important parts of big trades for us but perhaps not perceived previously to the recognition they deserve.”

Until recently, Cease has been the fourth name mentioned when discussing the White Sox fleet of starting-pitching prospects, behind Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning. And that’s typically after mentioning guys already in the majors like Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. But Cease has certainly moved to the front of that conversation with his big 2018.

Basabe is still buried, in conversation, behind Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo. Blake Rutherford is ranked ahead of him, too. But he’s shown himself worthy of consideration for a spot in the White Sox future plans. His performance at the Futures Game will keep him in that discussion.

Down in the minors, these guys are going about their business. And as headlining names like Jimenez and Kopech have either dealt with injuries or gone through struggles, “under the radar” guys like Cease and Basabe have produced.

Of course, the descriptors of “headliner” and “under the radar” don’t mean much to them.

“Eloy Jimenez is such a good player. That’s nothing, necessarily, against me, it just happens to be the way it is,” Cease said Sunday. “With Basabe, Kopech and Moncada are really studs, too. You’ve just got to be grateful for the opportunity you have. That doesn’t upset me by any means.”

Projecting lineups and depth charts of the future has become one of the favorite pastimes on the South Side during this rebuilding period. And while it’s easy to pick the highest-rated guys for the starting spots, rebuilds have a way of surprising. And maybe the emergence of guys like Cease and Basabe count as the surprises that awaited the White Sox effort.

Getting to the big leagues is obviously the end goal, and starring in the big leagues would mean usurping the projected place of one of the more-heralded prospects ahead of them. That’s not how Cease is looking at it, though, just sticking to that old baseball axiom of controlling what he can control.

Which is really the only way to get to where he and all these prospects want to be.

“It’s easy to dream on it,” Cease said of getting to the major league level. “It’s just that baseball’s such a difficult game that if you take your focus away from what you’re doing right now, it’s very easy to snowball away. So you can sit and dream about it, but you’ve got to do it and let it happen.”

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.