Kansas City Royals

Cubs early schedule is favorable, but watch out for divisional games

Cubs early schedule is favorable, but watch out for divisional games

With only 60 games this season, getting off to a good start is imperative for any team's postseason chances. That sentiment is especially true for the Cubs, based on how their schedule lines up to start the season.

The Cubs and Cardinals have the second easiest schedules through Aug. 6, based on their opponents' 2019 winning percentages (.445). The Reds (.437) have the easiest schedule through that stretch.

In those 14 games the Cubs play the Brewers (three times), Reds (four), Pirates (three) and Royals (four). They then play St. Louis three times before their first scheduled day off (Aug. 10).

MORE: 2020 Cubs schedule starts vs. Brewers, ends at White Sox

The context, of course, is Reds — a thorn in the Cubs' side last season — improved their roster immensely over the winter. Cincinnati added outfielder Nick Castellanos (Cubs) third baseman Mike Moustakas (Brewers), starter Wade Miley (Astros) and outfielder Shogo Akiyama (Japan) in free agency following a 75-87 2019 campaign. They also have a formidable rotation featuring Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Miley.

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Besides Moustakas, Milwaukee lost another cog to their 2019 lineup to free agency in catcher Yasmani Grandal (White Sox). Also gone is first baseman Eric Thames (25 homers last season), who joined the Nationals in free agency.

As has been the case in recent seasons, there are questions about Milwaukee's starting rotation. They dealt Zach Davies to the Padres and Chase Anderson to the Blue Jays, adding Erik Lauer (trade with San Diego), and Josh Lindblom (Japan) and Brett Anderson (A's) in free agency. 

Milwaukee is still a competitive rival and has proven doubters wrong by making back-to-back postseasons. Their bullpen is solid and they're still led by 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich.

Pittsburgh and Kansas City are still in rebuild mode, but lest we forget the Pirates were 44-45 at the All-Star break last season and in the thick of the NL Central race. A 60-game season is a crapshoot, and it would be foolish to take any opponent lightly.

No matter what any team did last season, 2020 is unique and unlike anything we've seen. Even with these factors, the Cubs need to get off to a good start to assert themselves in the race to October (should we get there, COVID-19 contingent).

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White Sox 2020 schedule: 5 key series during 60-game race for AL Central crown

White Sox 2020 schedule: 5 key series during 60-game race for AL Central crown

The White Sox schedule is here.

Get ready for 60 games of South Side baseball in a mad dash to the postseason. The White Sox have high expectations that they've carried with them from January into spring training and all the way through the months-long layoff due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the season squeezed down from the typical six-month marathon to the two-month sprint to October, every game holds twice or thrice as much weight as usual, and some of the players are already predicting a playoff-style atmosphere from Day 1.

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While that situation makes all 60 games important, here are five key series on the White Sox schedule, games against common foes — and one less frequent opponent — that could determine just how close the South Siders are from making their leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.

vs. Twins: July 24, 25 and 26

The most anticipated season of South Side baseball in years will finally begin at the end of the month, and what better opponent than the reigning AL Central champs? The Twins shot to the top of baseball's record books last season, slugging a total of 307 home runs, the most in baseball history. And then they beefed up that lineup even more, adding perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson on a free-agent contract. But while the Twins swing some menacing sticks, it will be interesting to see if their starting rotation past ace José Berríos can inspire similar fear in opposing hitters.

The White Sox, should everything go right, could find themselves with a more balanced group. But the highlight of any meeting between the two clubs will be whether the White Sox can match the offensive firepower with their own rebuilt lineup. The additions of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación, Nomar Mazara and highly touted prospect Luis Robert combined with an impressive core group of José Abreu, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez could make for an opening-weekend slugfest on the South Side.

If the White Sox are going to make a play for the division title, they'll need to go through the Twins. Fortunately for them, seven of the 10 games they play against the Land of 10,000 Lakers will come at Guaranteed Rate Field. And considering how much everyone's been talking about the importance of a good start in this 60-game sprint to the postseason, the first series of the year will be a big one, indeed.

RELATED: White Sox rookie Luis Robert confident in 'pretty hot' start to his '20 season

vs. Cardinals: Aug. 13, 15 and 16

The showcase event of the White Sox season was always scheduled to be the Field of Dreams game in Iowa. And though Major League Baseball had to cancel the London series and the All-Star Game, the game to be played in the middle of a cornfield is still on the docket. Instead of the Yankees, though, the White Sox will square off against the Cardinals in Dyersville, Iowa. It should make for an interesting watch on TV, considering the setting, celebrating the baseball movie "Field of Dreams," which came out in 1989 and featured White Sox legend Shoeless Joe Jackson among its characters. And it will provide the White Sox with a chance to show off their rebuilt squad to a national audience.

As for the series itself, the White Sox will play host to the Cardinals on the South Side, after an off day, for two more games. The Redbirds are the reigning NL Central champs and a perennial playoff contender, meaning they should provide the White Sox with a solid measuring stick when it comes to their own playoff aspirations. Plus, whether in the cornfield or back at The Rate, we could see a matchup between two of the best young pitchers in the game: Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty, who also happen to be former high school teammates.

vs. Royals: Aug. 28, 29 and 30

While it's difficult to exactly pinpoint any "benefits" certain teams might have over others during this season of unknowns, the White Sox playing a third of their games against the Royals and Tigers seems to be an opportunity for a big one. Obviously, the Twins and the Indians could reap the same rewards. But a combined 20 games against two teams that lost more than 100 games apiece last season is a nice scheduling bonus.

Against the Royals, in particular, the White Sox have a weapon that could prove very effective: Giolito. He's thrived against the Royals during his big league career. In a dozen starts, he owns a 2.75 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. Last year, when Giolito transformed himself from the pitcher with the worst stats in baseball to an All Star, he made a half dozen starts against the division foes and posted a 3.16 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 37 innings. Who knows how "normal" Rick Renteria's management of his pitching staff will be this season, but if he gets really creative, we could see Giolito deployed against the Royals a bunch. Feasting on the Royals, as well as the rebuilding Tigers, will be essential to the White Sox meeting their high expectations for 2020.

RELATED: Carlos Rodón has something to prove: 'It feels like I'm kind of brand new'

at Indians: Sept. 21, 22, 23 and 24

While the road to the AL Central crown goes through the Twin Cities, this figures to be more than just a two-team race. The White Sox also have to leap over the Indians if they want access to the top of the division standings. And that won't be an easy feat, considering how stacked the Indians' starting rotation is. It might be the best in baseball, with Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and other imposing arms behind them. Plus, though the Indians' lineup is undoubtedly top heavy, they still boast a pair of MVP types in Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez on the left side of the infield.

And then there's the White Sox sobering trend of results in Cleveland in recent seasons. Though rebuilding years that ended with 95, 100 and 89 losses featured defeats everywhere, things were particularly tough at Progressive Field, where they lost 18 times the last three seasons. The White Sox have a lot of things to accomplish to get out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. Winning in Cleveland is among them, and with four games there in the penultimate series of the season, there could be a lot on the line.

vs. Cubs: Sept. 25, 26 and 27

The White Sox will see their Crosstown rivals in two separate series this season, the first coming in late August on the North Side. But this one to close out the regular season at The Rate will be, as the kids say, lit. (Do the kids still say that?) Both Chicago teams enter the season with realistic expectations of continuing to play into October, and with 10 percent of their games against each other, it's not outlandish to suggest that this season's Crosstown get togethers could mean more than ever before, the 1906 World Series excluded.

While any White Sox series against the Cubs is enough to get fans excited, the two teams look pretty evenly matched this season, should the starting pitching pan out on both sides of town. Jose Quintana's season is in jeopardy after he sustained an injury while washing dishes, so a rematch with their old mate might not end up in the cards. But certainly White Sox fans will be looking for another "thanks, Cubs" moment from Jiménez. And Dylan Cease could be on the bump in a critical game against the organization that traded him away. All with the playoffs potentially on the line.

So that typical level of excitement that usually accompanies Crosstown matchups? Crank it up to 11 for this season-closing series on the South Side.


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MLB The Show: White Sox win extra-innings battle vs. Royals, reach .500 mark

MLB The Show: White Sox win extra-innings battle vs. Royals, reach .500 mark

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Royals, 10-5
Record: 31-31, 3rd in A.L. Central (2.5 GB of Twins and Indians)

W: Jimmy Cordero (4-0)
L: Tim Hill (0-1)

Game summary: After an Alex Colome blown save in the ninth with a 5-3 lead, the White Sox again looked to their extra-inning hero, Yasmani Grandal, to come up clutch in the 11th inning. Grandal’s RBI single opened the flood gates as the White Sox scored five in the 11th to take a 10-5 lead. 

The White Sox were led Wednesday by Luis Robert, who had his best game at the plate in a Sox uniform, going 4-for-6 with a double and two RBIs. The 3-7 lineups spots produced 12 hits and seven of the 10 RBIs. 

The turning point for the Sox offense came in the seventh, when Yoan Moncada broke the 3-3 tie with a solo home run to left field. The next inning, Grandal doubled to center field to give the South Siders a 5-3 lead heading into the ninth. Grandal’s .328 average ranks seventh in the American League, as he and Edwin Encarnacion battle for the team's best batting average on a daily basis.

With a win Wednesday, the White Sox returned to .500 after sliding to more than 10 games under .500 in the opening months of the season. As the Twins' skid continues, the White Sox have drawn within 2 1/2 games of the division lead.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 1-4, 2B, 2 BB (.327 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-6 (.266 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 2-6, HR, 2 RBI (.259 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 2-6, 2B (.259 BA)
Jose Abreu: 2-6, 2 RBI (.313 BA)
Tim Anderson: 2-6, RBI, 2B (.295 BA)
Luis Robert: 4-6, 2 RBI, 2B (.251 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 2-4, 3 RBI, 2 2B (.328 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-3, 2B, 2 BB (.252 BA)

Scoring summary:

Bottom second:

Salvador Perez doubled to left field, Hunter Dozier scored. 1-0 KC.

Top fourth:

Luis Robert doubled to right field, Nick Madrigal scored. 1-1.

Bottom fourth:

Jorge Soler homered to center field. 2-1 KC.

Top sixh:

Robert singled to center field, Madrigal scored. 2-2.
Yasmani Grandal sacrifice fly to center field, Jose Abreu scored. 3-2 CHW.

Bottom sixh:

Perez grounded out to third base, Dozier scored. 3-3.

Top seventh:

Yoan Moncada homered to left field. 4-3 CHW.

Top eighth:

Grandal doubled to left field, Tim Anderson scored. 5-3 CHW.

Bottom ninth:

Perez homered to left field, Dozier scored. 5-5.

Top 11th:

Grandal doubled to left field, Robert scored. 6-5 CHW.
Moncada singled to right field, Grandal scored. 7-5 CHW.
Abreu singled to left field, Nomar Mazara and Edwin Encarnacion scored. 9-5 CHW.
Anderson singled to center field, Moncada scored. 10-5 CHW.

Notable performance: Jimmy Cordero picked up his fourth win of the season and continues to have the best ERA in the White Sox bullpen (2.58). Cordero was electric Wednesday, coming in for two innings of work and striking out four Royals on the way to the extra-innings victory.

Next game: Thursday, June 4 - Game 63: White Sox at Royals (Dylan Cease, 3-4, 6.00 ERA vs TBD)

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