White Sox Look to Reset in Home Opener

After a dreadful start to the 2015 season in which the team scored only two runs in two of the three games against the division rival Kansas City Royals, the White Sox will face the dismal Minnesota Twins in front of a packed house, on beautiful day on the south side.

The Sox will send right-hander Hector Noesi out to the mound against a Twins team that has combined to score one run in three games in their opening series against the Tigers. In his career Noesi has a 2-1 win-loss record against the Twins with a 4.19 ERA.

The key player to watch in the Twins lineup today is an obvious one in Joe Mauer. The first baseman is the only player on the twins with more than two hits and is the Twins only run on the season. Mauer has been Mr. Consistent in his career, although he is coming off a career low .277 average last season. With the White Sox having issues getting their offense going, it’ll be important to keep Mauer from causing too much damage by keeping second baseman Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar off the bases.

On the White Sox side of the field, the team needs to focus on trying to find a spark against a bad team to get the offense going. Against the Twins left-hander Tommy Milone, Adam Eaton needs to get the lineup going at the top of the order. Eaton’s had only one hit in twelve at-bats and is a key to making the pitchers uncomfortable on the mound by being on base when Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche come up to the plate.

While starting 0-3 isn’t ideal and not what every White Sox fan expected it’s also not the end of the world. However 26 out of the first 29 games are against the central division so it’s important the White Sox find their stride quicker than usual.

Lineup for the Sox according to WhiteSox.com:
1. Eaton – CF
2. Cabrera – LF
3. Abreu – 1B
4. Garcia – RF
5. LaRoche – DH
6. Ramirez – SS
7. Beckham – 3B
8. Flowers – C
9. Johnson – 2B

Noesi – SP

Random Cubs Thoughts: Opening Series Edition

Jake Arrieta warms up prior to the Cubs' September 3rd game against Milwaukee

Jake Arrieta warms up prior to the Cubs’ September 3rd game against Milwaukee

The Chicago Cubs have started out their season with a series split against the St. Louis Cardinals, getting shutout on Opening Night and then shutting out the redbirds during their first day game of the season on Wednesday.

Before the team starts out their next series against the Colorado Rockies (which we will be previewing this afternoon), we had some thoughts we wanted to share on the opening series of the season.

Jake Arrieta Still Rolling As He Opens Year With a Bang

He looked wild in the first inning of the game, but he settled down in a big way on Wednesday afternoon as he pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out seven batters and walking three in a 2-0 victory for the Cubs.

Arrieta is a player that is going to be a big key for the Cubs’ pitching rotation this season. A lot of attention is being paid to Jon Lester, and rightfully so, but the fact remains that Arrieta has the potential to make this rotation into a much stronger one if he can maintain his 2014 form, and if his effective performance against St. Louis is any indication, he’s hellbent on making sure there’s no regression on his part.

Lester’s Inability to Keep Runners Honest a Concern

A lot was made in the run-up to Opening Night about the fact that Lester hasn’t made a pick-off throw to first base since April of 2013, and that narrative gained a bit of steam on Sunday night as the Cardinals swiped three bases off of the Cubs’ hurler in the 3-0 victory.

To his credit, Lester brushed off criticism of his approach to handling base runners.

“This really wasn’t a big issue until someone brought it up on TV,” he said. “So I’m standing here answering your questions about it. Like I said, I think I had eight or nine or 10 stolen bases allowed (in 2014).”

Lester is the type of pitcher that is going to emphasize changing speeds in his delivery in order to keep baserunners off balance, but it still does seem like he should at least consider throwing over every once in a while to help keep things under control. It’s definitely a story worth keeping an eye on.

Offense Will Heat Up As Weather Does

In two games, the Cubs are now 1-for-16 on the season with runners in scoring position, with their lone hit coming on Starlin Castro’s seventh inning single that knocked in Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs the lead. Miguel Montero also lifted a sacrifice fly to right field in the game, and Castro scored to give the Cubs their second run of the season.

Even though some fans are concerned about the team’s offensive woes so far, they have to remember two things: in the warm weather of Arizona, the ball carries farther, and the Cubs’ team power came to the forefront. The same thing should happen here. The other thing to remember is that Joe Maddon is still experimenting with lineups, and once he hits on the right combination, the team should score more runs.

Panic is premature at this point. Obviously.

Jorge Soler’s Triple a Sight to Behold

Soler stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game with no one on base, but that didn’t stop him from putting a huge charge into the ball and picking up a splendid triple:

Accordding to JJ Cooper of Baseball America, it only took Soler 11.7 seconds to get from home plate to third on the play. About the only way he could’ve gotten there faster would have been if he had run up the third base line instead.

 

OPENING DAY: Remembering Minnie

Minnie in 1956 Spring Training, thanks to Sports Illustrated.

Minnie in 1956 Spring Training, thanks to Sports Illustrated.

When the White Sox take the field in US Cellular Field for their home opener, there will be less sunshine than there has been in years past. Part of their ceremonies will have to include saying goodbye to Minnie Minoso.

Orestes “Minnie” Minoso was born in Cuba in 1922, and began playing baseball in Cuba before coming to the United States in 1946 to play for the New York Cubans in the Negro National League. He played third base for the Cubans for three years, playing in the East-West All Star Game in his future home, Comiskey Park.

After the 1948 season, Bill Veeck signed him for the Cleveland Indians. Veeck had already signed Negro Leaguers such as Larry Doby and Satchel Paige, and the Indians won the World Series in 1948, the first integrated team to do so.

When Minoso played his first game for the Indians, he became the first black Cuban to play in the major leagues, getting the chance that greats like Martin Dihigo never got. He played a handful of games for Cleveland in 1949, and a few mre in 1951 before being traded to the Sox.

He then had an outstanding rookie season, hitting .324 with 10 home runs and 14 triples playing in cavernous Comiskey. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race to Gil McDougald, despite having a statistically superior year. He also outshone another Yankee rookie, Mickey Mantle.

Minoso became one of baseball’s most exciting players, combining speed and power to become the Sox version of Mantle or Willie Mays. He never put up the huge numbers those players did, particularly home runs, but he still managed 4 years where he finished top 5 in MVP voting, and he (along with the oother members of the Go-Go Sox) were responsible for bringing the stolen base back as an offensive weapon.

He played with the Sox until December 1957, when he was traded along with Fred Hatfield back to Cleveland for Al Smith and Early Wynn. While that trade took away Minoso’s opportunity to play on the 1959 pennant winners, the team may not have made it to the World Series withut Smith or Wynn.

He was traded back to the Sox in December 1959, and his once-again owner Veeck gave him an honorary American League Champion ring. He had his last great season in 1960, hitting .311 and winning his third Gold Glove.

After the 1961 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent a year there, then was sold to Washington. In the 1964 season, the Sox brought him back for his third tour. He played 30 games, mainly as a pinch hitter, before being released during the season.

You’d think that would be it, right? Minnie went to Mexico and played and coached there until 1973, when he came back to the Sox as a coach. When Veeck re-bought the Sox before the 1976 season, he signed the 50 year old Minoso to a player contract. Minnie played 3 games, going 1-for-8 as a DH.

Minnie also was activated in 1980 at age 54, and was hitless in 2 at bats. This meant he played in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. He also played in the 90s for an independent minor league team owned by Veeck’s son.

After his playing days were done, he was an ambassador for the Sox, always livening up the ballpark. He was also an elder statesman among Cuban baseball players, bridging the eras between the Negro Leagues and players who came later, like Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant, then Freddy Garcia and Jose Canseco, then Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.

He’s got a statue outside US Cellular Park, and he’ll always be beloved among Sox fans.

Thanks Minnie.

OPENING NIGHT: Remembering Mr. Cub

I kept this card in my pocket until is was just a blank wad of cardboard.

I kept this card in my pocket until is was just a blank wad of cardboard.

This winter, as we Cub fans thought about the team that was taking shape for the 2015 season and beyond, we could think about experiencing things that Cub fans haven’t experienced for decades, or even a century. However, there was one thing we hadn’t counted on.

This marks the first baseball season in over six decades without Ernie Banks. Ernie left us the night of January 23, and it makes perfect sense that he went at night. Ernie lived in the sunshine, just as the sunshine lived in him. He brought joy to a game that should always have joy. Every time you saw Ernie Banks, he was always cheerful. In fact, he once said, “I treat everyone as if they have a sign that says, ‘make me happy.'” That sunshine within Banks was why everyone, Cub fan or not, even those who were born after he no longer played, loved him.

Everyone who ever met him was always treated like the most important person in the room by him. I took my wife to the 1994 Emil Verban Memorial Society luncheon (it’s a real thing, I promise), and Banks was holding court. As my wife approached, he turned and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Ernie Banks.” Of course the fact that my wife happens to be a knockout didn’t hurt either But everyone got the thrill of not only meeting this great player, but also a great man.

As a four-year-old going to his first Cub game in 1967, all I knew going in was that the Cubs wore blue hats like mine, and Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub. All I wanted was for Banks to hit a home run that day. And he did. I don’t remember much about it (again, 4 years old), but my dad told me it was pretty much the same as every Banks home run, a rope to left field that you were never quite sure would clear the wall.

My dad was actually there the day Ernie hit #500. When I heard he was blowing off work to go, I wanted to blow off school to go too. He nixed that, but I managed to let the Cubs interfere with my education enough in later years…it was their fault, putting Wrigley Field right between Uptown and Lane Tech. But I digress…#500 was, again, classic Banks. Another rope into left. In fact, one habit I picked up from my dad was this kind of lifting motion with my hands, urging the ball over the wall. Kind of how a bowler waves at his ball trying to get it into the pocket. I know Dad was doing that as soon as Banks hit the ball. In fact, one of the biggest kicks I ever got was finding that ticket stub and showing it to Banks.

The name Mr. Cub fit him perfectly too. Not only because he was the greatest player in the history of the franchise, but he embodied the hope and optimism that we all feel, particularly then. The Cubs were contending for the first time in Banks’ career, and he believed as we all did…the Cubs would be great in ’68, the Cubs would shine in ’69, the Cubs would glow in 7-0. Something about the way he’d say it, we’d all believe. Hell, he had me believing those early 80s teams weren’t all that bad.

He had the same love for the game as I felt…when you’re a kid and school’s out, who didn’t want to play two? Three? Hell, as many as you could squeeze in before either the sun went down or it was time to eat. Ernie was right there with us, he just loved playing ball. Hell, his love of the game is why now that I’m in my 50s I still wear #14 when I play softball. Ernie was also a nightmare for baseball coaches all over Chicago, as every kid mimicked that finger-wiggling thing he did when he held the bat.

It was perfectly fitting that he was a Cub. When he got bought from the Kansas City Monarchs, the Cubs narrowly won a bidding war over the White Sox and Yankees. If Banks had been a Yankee, would his desire to play two every day have had the same ring? It’s easy to want to play more when you’re winning the pennant every year. If he had plied his trade in Comiskey Park, he would have turned the 1950s Sox teams from pretty good ones to great ones.

Instead, he was a Cub. In the late 50s, as he won back-to-back MVP trophies for second-division teams, it was said, “without Banks, the Cubs would finish in Albequerque.” Then once he got some help in the form of Ron Santo and Billy Williams, he had some more of his prime wasted with the “College of Coaches”. He was a diamond on a trash heap for the majority of his career.

Finally in the twilight of his career, he had a shot at contention. But as we all know, it was never to be. Still, his career spanned a watershed period for Major League Baseball. It started with him and Gene Baker integrating the Cubs in 1953, in an era where there were 16 major league teams, and none farther west than St. Louis. By the time he retired in 1971, there were 24 teams, including 5 in California. Of course, every team was integrated. When he came to Chicago, the great Cub power hitter of the era was Hank Sauer, a tobacco-chewing behemoth who swung a 40 ounce bat. Banks swung one in the low 30s, and looked like a buggy-whip when he unleashed into a pitch.

But his career was also a great one. One of the ten greatest shortstops of all time. 512 career home runs (including one on that day in 1967). An equal to his contemporaries, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

But his joy, his optimism, it embodied what the Cubs are all about. Without that optimism, you could never endure the heartbreaks of 1969, 1970, 1984 or 2003. That optimism is what makes you believe that he’s in whatever astral plane you believe in, lobbying for cosmic intervention.

And if the time ever comes when the Cubs finally become the last team to win a baseball game in a season, you can believe a lot of us will find our thoughts going to Ernie Banks.

Thanks for that, Ernie.

Let’s play two.

Ranking the Cactus League: James’ Top 10 Arizona Spring Training Parks

With Monday’s game between the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox at Peoria Sports Complex, O have officially visited every spring training park in the Cactus League. That includes one that is no longer in use (Phoenix Municipal Stadium), but I’ve been to all 10 and have enjoyed my trip throughout the league.

With that in mind, I decided to rank my favorites in a completely arbitrary and non-objective way. None of these stadiums are particularly bad, and a lot of them are truly great, but I just went with my first instinct on every one of them, and here is how they shook out.

10 Maryvale Baseball Park –Milwaukee Brewers

It’s easy to pick on Maryvale because of its age, but the issues I had with it run deeper than that. There are way too many metal bleachers in the place, which get nice and toasty warm under the Arizona sunshine, and the traffic flow around the neighborhood is abysmal. Add to that the fact that it’s a sketchy neighborhood once the sun goes down (so you want to get the heck out of there as soon as the game ends), and it was pretty easy for me to put it at the bottom of the list.

9 Scottsdale Stadium – San Francisco Giants

There isn’t anything particularly wrong with Scottsdale. The neighborhood around the park is cool, with all sorts of shops and restaurants to choose from, and the ballpark is a nice place to watch a game. The problems I have with it are two-fold: one is that it’s a bear to get in and out of, and the other is that there isn’t anything particularly memorable about it. Tempe Diablo Stadium has the mountain alongside of it. Sloan Park has food trucks and little homages to Wrigley Field. Scottsdale doesn’t really have any of that.

8 Surprise Stadium –Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers

This park was a really nice one, and I have been to it several times to watch baseball at various levels (spring training, Arizona rookie league, and Arizona Fall League). The food is good, there’s plenty of shade, and the field is immaculate. The ONLY issue I have with this place is the location. It’s quite a haul off the 101 to get there, and the traffic on Bell Road as you head back east is simply appalling.

7 Goodyear Baseball Park – Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians

Goodyear also gets dinged for its location, but at least it’s conveniently located off a highway, as you just have to go westbound on Interstate 10 to get there. The food at the ballpark was delicious, and even though it was relatively small compared to some of the other Cactus League parks, I found it very inviting and nice when I went.

6 Tempe Diablo Stadium – Los Angeles Angels

This park is a little odd, since it doesn’t have outfield berm seating all around and it is a little bit of a drive if you’re heading out of downtown Phoenix, but there is plenty to like about it. There is a lot of character in the park, including the aforementioned mountain beyond left field, and the food choices are awesome. Any park that includes the barbeque stylings of Honey Bear is aces in my book.

5 HoHoKam Stadium – Oakland Athletics

If the A’s still played at the Muni, it’d be dead last. If the team hadn’t renovated the park after the Chicago Cubs moved out, it would have been near the bottom, if not last place. The changes they’ve made to the park, the amenities they’ve brought in, and the food that they serve have all conspired to lift the park up this list, and it definitely doesn’t feel like Sloan Park’s little brother from down the street in Mesa.

4 Camelback Ranch – Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers

Camelback is a baseball paradise, with fields stretching out as far as the eye can see and a seating bowl that makes it feel like every seat is on top of the action. There’s plenty to do and see in the ballpark as well, and the only quibble that I have about the place is the parking situation. If you park in the south lot, it feels like you’re walking all the way back to Chicago before you arrive at the park.

3 Peoria Sports Complex – San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners

This park doesn’t have much shade, but other than that (which is actually overcome by the fact they offer free sunscreen dispensers in the bathrooms), this place is great. The seats have all been angled back toward the field thanks to a recent renovation, and the food is out of this world. Deep-fried Twinkies and jumbo hot dogs slathered in pulled pork and coleslaw? Yes please.

2 Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies

When this park opened, baseball fans rejoiced because it meant that the Cactus League was closer together than ever before (sorry Tucson). What fans didn’t realize is that the park would set a whole new standard for opulence and awesomeness. The place honestly feels like a big league park, but without losing the closeness and intimacy of a spring training facility. It’s a weird mix that doesn’t sound like it exists, but it really does.

1 Sloan Park – Chicago Cubs

The top spot on this list can honestly go to any of the top three stadiums I have listed, but Sloan Park is a worthy champion. Food trucks beyond the right field wall? Awesome. Subtle homages to Wrigley Field, from the clock atop the scoreboard to the facing on the press box to the light fixtures? Awesome. A huge seating capacity that fills up just about every time the North Siders take the field? Awesome.

Spring training is supposed to be about relaxing and watching some baseball, with some fun touristy elements as well. Sloan Park delivers all of that, and the Cubs have set a new standard for fun with this stadium.

 

Boras, Epstein Square Off Over Bryant’s Big League Debut

The Chicago Cubs have a decision on their hands as they decide what to do with third baseman Kris Bryant after spring training, but on Tuesday afternoon, it became clear that a key member of Bryant’s camp has ideas on what the North Siders should do.

“Cubs ownership has a choice,” Bryant’s agent Scott Boras told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.”

Boras clearly wants Bryant to be up with the Cubs when camp breaks in early April, and his motives likely have more to do with his client’s major league service clock (if Bryant opens the year with the Cubs, the team would have to spend options to send him back to the minors if they chose to do so, and it would mean that Bryant would likely become a free agent after the 2020 season, not the 2021 campaign) than the Cubs’ chances of winning a World Series.

Kris Bryant Stands In vs. Indians

Kris Bryant Stands In vs. Indians

Cubs president Theo Epstein had a blunt response to Boras, saying that “comments from agents, media members, and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”

To be blunt, there is only one correct choice for the Cubs to make here: starting Bryant in the minors. Bringing him up with the team out of Mesa would give the early season games a bit of extra juice, but at what cost? Getting Bryant 10 or 11 extra games this season at the expense of losing an entire year of relatively cheap service time during the prime of his career?

This isn’t even a debate, but Boras’ desire to frame this as a matter of the Cubs choosing to deliberately shoot themselves in the foot competitively shouldn’t be taken as gospel. He’s merely an agent trying to get his client a bigger payday sooner rather than later, and fans would be smart not to buy into his comments.

Maddon Suggests Cubs Could Carry Three Catchers Into Season

The Chicago Cubs have made some big roster moves over the course of the offseason, but with the acquisitions of Miguel Montero and David Ross to bolster their catcher position, the big question is what they plan to do with Welington Castillo.

Castillo, who hit 13 home runs and drove in 46 RBI for the Cubs last season, isn’t the best catcher defensively behind the plate, and that coupled with his youth led the Cubs to act this winter as they brought aboard a couple of veterans with leadership ability and defensive skill.

Sloan Park 3-11

To his credit, Castillo has been playing well so far during the Cactus League season. In 19 at-bats, he has racked up seven hits, four runs scored, clubbed a home run, and driven in five RBI. With those numbers, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Cubs try to trade him to another team, but manager Joe Maddon isn’t shying away from the idea of carrying three catchers when the team breaks camp in early April:

Muskat also brought up a good point about the versatility that players like Arismendy Alcantara (who has been seeing time at second base and in center field this spring, and could also potentially fill in at third base in a pinch) and Tommy La Stella (who has been squaring the ball up nicely at the plate and can play several infield positions) bring to the table, and how that could potentially allow the Cubs to carry three catchers out of Cactus League play.

Even with that being the case though, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs holding onto all three catchers. Ross is probably going to catch quite a bit when Jon Lester is toeing the slab (although all three catchers have caught him so far this spring), and Montero wasn’t brought aboard to be a platoon guy. That leaves Castillo as the odd man out, and no matter how much the Cubs say that they are looking into keeping three catchers on their roster, it just feels like they’re trying to maintain a higher trade value for a guy who could be a lucrative asset as catchers with other teams succumb to injuries this spring.

BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK: Hope Springs Eternal

Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.

Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since Monday, you know that Tuesday afternoon the Cubs became the talk of Spring Training, as prospects Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in a preseason game they didn’t even win. Not that wins mean all that much in Spring Training anyway. In the hierarchy of what’s important, they rate far below player conditioning and far above whether an individual is allowed to bring their own food into the ballpark.

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Farrell to Take the Field in Thursday’s White Sox game and Seven Others for a Good Cause

Everyone would remember seeing actor and comedian Will Farrell impersonating Harry Carey on NBC’s Saturday Night Live during his time on the show. Chicago Cubs fans would remember him for the time he read the starting lineups for the club before a game. Now it seems he’s going to take on being a Major League Baseball player.
According to USAToday.com, on Thursday there are eight games schedule for the Cactus League teams and Ferrell is planning to play in all eight of those games for a great cause. In collaboration between MLB and HBO for cancer awareness, Farrell is going to play all nine positions on the field throughout the series of games. He will be helicoptered to each game and will be filmed by the HBO during five of those games.
According to ESPN.com, it’s been confirmed that Farrell will see time in the Chicago White Sox versus San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres versus Los Angeles Dodgers games. His first game will be at 2 p.m. CT and the last one will start at 8:15 p.m. CT. It should make for a very entertaining Thursday in Arizona.

Johnson, Relievers Give Royals First Loss in Spring

In the first division game of 2015, the Sox took on the undefeated American League Champion Kansas City Royals on Tuesday.
Jose Abreu, J.B Shuck, and Gordon Beckham helped give starting pitcher Tyler Danish some cushion in the first inning as all three knocked in a run each.
Danish would give up a solo home run to right in the bottom of the inning to Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson. Danish, the seventh overall top prospect in the organization according to MLB.com, would go on to give up 2 more hits and another earned run in 2 1/3 innings in his first start of the spring.
Top hitter of the day goes to White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson who went four for four, scoring twice and had a RBI. In a battle for second base, Johnson’s doing his best to make a statement having hit six straight times in six at bats.
WhiteSox.com quoted manager Robin Ventura on Johnson’s spring, “You notice his speed and his range, even his at-bats, you start seeing what people are talking about and he’s getting in the middle of everything. He had some nice turns defensively, I thought he showed some of the range. He had the one ball that came out of his glove, but he still was able to get to it. He just continues to play hard and play with purpose.”
Relievers Zach Phillips, Raul Fernandez, Scott Carroll, Eric Surkamp combined for 6 2/3 scoreless innings and seven strikeouts.
The White Sox will take on the Texas Rangers next at Camelback Ranch at 3:05 PM Central Time today. Top prospect Carlos Rodon will return to the mound for the second time this spring. The last time he was on the mound he only gave up one hit in two innings with four strikeouts.