Showing posts with label Opening Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Opening Day. Show all posts

Friday, April 8, 2016

I went to Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field, and it snowed

How's this for baseball weather?:


That was the scene at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday before the White Sox's first home game of the season against the Cleveland Indians. The game resulted in a 7-1 Cleveland victory. More on that in minute, but five years from now, when people talk about Opening Day 2016 the main thing they are going to remember was the bone-chilling cold (temperatures in the 30s, wind chills in the 20s) and snow.

It did stop snowing for a little while, and the ballpark looked great for pregame ceremonies:


And, did I mention this new center field scoreboard is awesome?


On the field, there weren't many positives for the Sox, who fell to 3-2 with their worst performance of the season's first week.  We should have seen it coming. John Danks entered Friday's action with a 5-14 record, with a 5.29 ERA, in 26 career starts against Cleveland.

Make it 5-15 in 27 starts.

Danks gave up seven runs, five earned, over five innings pitched. He sucked the life out of the sellout crowd by giving up three runs in the top of the first inning, plus two more in the second. The "here we go again" feeling that was so prominent in the ballpark during these last three losing seasons of 2013-2015 was back again immediately with the Sox down 5-0 an inning and a half into the home portion of the schedule.

There were physical mistakes (Alex Avila's throwing error in the first inning that cost the Sox two runs) and mental mistakes (Avisail Garcia getting picked off first base with runners on first and second and one out, down 5-0, in the bottom of the second inning). There was an alarming lack of offense -- only three hits all day.

Todd Frazier went 2-for-3 with a solo home run, a single and a walk. Beyond that, the only offense was a single by Austin Jackson. This marked the second straight year the Sox were limited to just three hits in their home opener. Last year's 6-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins was utterly forgettable and sadly a predictor of misery to come.

We can only hope today's performance is an aberration and not a foretelling of another bad season on the South Side.

The only other good thing we can say? Well, Dan Jennings and Zach Putnam combined for four scoreless innings in relief of Danks. If not for that, it would have been worse than 7-1.

Without question, this game was one to forget, unless you're talking about the weather.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field




Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field is always one of my favorite days of the year.  The long, cold winter is over. A new season has begun, and it's a chance to celebrate that renewal with good friends and take in a ballgame. (See photos)


Too bad the White Sox missed the memo that this was supposed to be a happy occasion. I've been to the Sox home opener every year since 2010, and this is the first year I've seen them lose. Until Friday's 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Sox had won their home opener every year since 2007.

I guess it was inevitable that they'd drop one eventually, but this loss was pretty galling. The festive, sellout crowd that was present at the start of the game had thinned out to just us diehards by the time the game ended. The Sox looked terrible, and the loss dropped them to 0-4 -- the first time they've started a season with four consecutive losses since 1995.

Even though the Sox have been struggling, I did not expect their bats to be silenced by Minnesota left-hander Tommy Milone, a soft-tosser who reminded me a little bit of Bruce Chen. Milone worked 7.2 shutout innings and allowed just two hits -- a bunt single by Micah Johnson in the third and two-out double to Tyler Flowers in the eighth. The Sox did not have a runner reach third base until the ninth inning.

The Sox have scored one run or fewer in three of their first four games, and obviously, that doesn't lend itself to success. Look at some of these bad starts from hitters you expect to perform:

Adam Eaton: 2 for 16
Melky Cabrera: 2 for 16
Jose Abreu: 3 for 14
Avisail Garcia: 3 for 11 with all three hits coming in the same game
Adam LaRoche: 1 for 14 with 8 strikeouts
Alexei Ramirez: 1 for 12

These are all guys with a track record, but none of them are swinging the bat well right now. You just have to cross your fingers and hope they start hitting the way they have in the past.

But perhaps the most ridiculous thing I've seen from the Sox is their terrible baserunning. I know they want to be aggressive, but they've crossed the line to criminal stupidity. After Johnson's bunt single Friday, he was picked off second base -- the second time he's been picked off already this year. The final out of the game, somewhat fittingly, came on a bad baserunning play by Eaton. He tried to score from third on a shallow pop to left off Abreu's bat. He was tagged out while getting tangled up at the plate with Minnesota catcher Kurt Suzuki, and for what? Even if he's safe, it's 6-1. Why risk injury by making a reckless play like that in 6-0 game in the ninth?

It's time for the Sox to pull in the reins on their new "aggressive" baserunning strategy. So far, it's resulted in no stolen bases, and by my count, six gift outs for the opposition, including the two today. When you're not swinging the bats well, the problem is compounded when you waste outs on the basepaths.

And, oh, by the way, starting pitcher Hector Noesi stunk Friday. He walked six, threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in just 4.2 innings pitched. It's a miracle the Twins only scored two runs off him after they loaded the bases three times in the first five innings. Against a better hitting team, I believe Noesi would have been shelled today. Throughout the offseason, Sox brass was bullish on Noesi and insisted he would be improved for this season. Count me among the skeptics.

Reliever Zach Putnam also allowed three runs in the ninth inning Friday, increasing my suspicion that he was a one-year wonder in 2014.

It's too bad the play on the field had to be so bad for Opening Day. After that, you wonder how many of the 38,000-some in attendance on Friday will want to return. I'm going back to the ballpark tomorrow, but perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment.



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

White Sox give fans an Opening Day to forget

Opening Day of the baseball season is supposed to be about new beginnings and new hope. Unfortunately for the White Sox and their fans, Opening Day 2015 proved to be way too reminiscent of 2014.

The Kansas City Royals won 13 of 19 meetings against the White Sox on their way to the American League pennant last season, and they continued their mastery of the South Siders on Monday with an easy 10-1 victory.

You would like to think with all the acquisitions the Sox made over the offseason things would be different now, but at least for one day, the faces have changed but the results remained the same.

Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija pitched poorly in his Sox debut. His fastball command was erratic at best. His offspeed pitches weren't working at all, and the result was five Kansas City runs on six hits over six-plus innings. Samardzija walked three and hit two batters, and he struck out just one. There wasn't anything good to say about his outing, other than the fact that the Sox were still in the game -- down 4-1 -- when he left the mound in the seventh inning. It could have been worse.

Relievers Dan Jennings and Kyle Drabek also struggled. By the time that seventh inning was over, Kansas City held a 9-1 lead. A 3-run homer by Alex Rios (off Drabek) was the highlight of the frame for the Royals, but in many ways, all five of those runs were gifts.

First off, Samardzija and Jennings each walked a batter to give the Royals two baserunners with nobody out. But it looked like Jennings had a chance to get out of the inning, as he got Lorenzo Cain to ground out and struck out Eric Hosmer. But with runners on second and third and two outs, Sox manager Robin Ventura needlessly ordered an intentional walk of Kendrys Morales.

Ventura wanted the left-handed Jennings to face the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon, but as we discussed when Jennings was acquired, he's not a lefty specialist. He actually gets right-handed hitters out at a better clip than lefties, so giving the Royals a third walk and a third baserunner in the inning was foolish move.

Still, Jennings made the pitch he needed to make to get out of the inning, but a weak grounder by Gordon somehow eluded both Alexei Ramirez and Micah Johnson and squirted into center field for a two-run single and a 6-1 Kansas City lead. It was a play Johnson should have made, but the play is at least partially Ramirez's fault because he jumped in front of the Sox rookie and perhaps screened him from seeing the ball.

The inning should have been over with the Royals still leading 4-1. Instead, it continued and Rios hit his home run to end any doubt on how this afternoon would end.

The Sox looked bad in all aspects, and it was hard not to feel like there wasn't some carryover from a poor ending to spring training. The South Siders had lost their last two exhibition games, a 10-2 drubbing against Arizona and a silly 10-2 loss to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. Ventura had warned his team that enough was enough, and that the sloppy play needed to end.

That warning went unheeded, and similar results ensued in the opener in Kansas City. There were three silver linings from this game. 1) Jose Abreu homered, ending needless worries about his lack of power during spring training; 2) Johnson got his first big-league hit out of the way; and 3) it only counts as one loss and there's another game on Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Opening Day 2014 at U.S. Cellular Field

White Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza is on pace for 324 home runs and 486 RBIs this season.

OK, so that isn't going to happen, but credit De Aza for coming up with a big performance on Opening Day -- two home runs and three RBIs in the Sox' 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

It was De Aza's first multihomer game of his career. He became just the fourth Sox player to hit two home runs in a game on Opening Day. The others are Minnie Minoso, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome.

As you can see from the picture, the weather cooperated on Monday. It was windy day on the South Side, but the temperatures were in the 60s. In fact, it was the warmest day in the Chicago area since last November. After the winter we've had, I had no complaints.

Here are a few other first impressions from yesterday's game:

1. The Sox played errorless defense. I don't know if that's going to last, but it was nice to see. I'll bet the Sox coughed up 15 to 20 games on poor defense alone in 2013. They were sloppy at times during spring training as well, so defense ranks as my No. 1 concern coming into the season. On Monday, all the routine plays were handled behind ace left-hander Chris Sale. If the Sox could just be adequate defensively, they might add five to 10 games to their win total on that alone.

2. Jose Abreu hits the ball hard. Really hard. He crushed the first pitch he saw in the big leagues for a double to right field. Minnesota outfielder Oswaldo Arcia didn't have time to react before the ball was over his head. Abreu went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his first game, and he hit the ball right on the screws three times. We'll see how Abreu reacts as pitchers adjust to him, but it was a good start for the Cuban slugger.

3. I think Adam Eaton is going to become a fan favorite on the South Side. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored in his first game, but perhaps his most impressive at-bat was one in which he made an out. He saw 11 pitches from Minnesota reliever Anthony Swarzak in the seventh inning. He fouled off several good pitches before grounding out to first base. Eaton looks like he's going to be a tough out, and just in general, he seems like he's going to be a pain to opposing teams. Sox fans like guys like that.

4. There are two types of pitchers who start on Opening Day. There are aces, and then there are guys who pitch on Opening Day because somebody has to. Sale is an ace. Minnesota's Ricky Nolasco started because, well, somebody had to start for the Twins. The difference in quality between those two guys is pretty obvious to anyone who watched this game. No surprise that Sale got the win and Nolasco the loss.

5. Sox manager Robin Ventura has selected veteran Matt Lindstrom to be his closer. Lindstrom picked up the save Monday, retiring three of the four batters he faced with one strikeout. I'm probably in the minority on this one, but I like Lindstrom over Nate Jones in the ninth inning. Will Lindstrom be a dominant closer? Hell no. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Daniel Webb takes his job before the year is over. But for me, Jones walks too many batters to be a closer. His command was spotty at best during the spring. Lindstrom will get beat at times, but I think he's less likely to give games away with walks than Jones. I'm fine with giving Lindstrom a shot.

161 games to go, but for one day, the Sox and their fans can feel good about this performance. The Sox have won each of their last seven home openers, and Monday's effort was a solid one from top to bottom.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field



U.S. Cellular Field is a notorious hitters' ballpark during the summer months. Monday's game between the White Sox and the Kansas City Royals? Well, the weather wasn't summer-like and it wasn't a good day for hitters.

Don't let the view from my seat in Section 531 (pictured above) fool you. It looks like a beautiful day, but the afternoon will go down as one of the coldest South Side home openers in history, with temperatures hovering in the high 30s and windchills making it feel 10 degrees colder than that.

On days like this, the ball doesn't carry and pitching rules. In a battle of aces, Sox left-hander Chris Sale got the best of Kansas City right-hander James Shields as the South Siders began their season with a 1-0 victory.

Making the first Opening Day start of his career, Sale showed no signs of nervousness. In the second inning, he jumped ahead of Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas 0-2 with two straight breaking balls for strikes. At that point, I realized it was going to be a good day for Sale. He could grab a strike at any time with any one of his three pitches, and he was changing speeds on his slider to keep the Royal hitters off balance.

Sale tossed 7.2 innings. He allowed seven hits, all singles, struck out seven and walked only one. He threw 72 of his 104 pitches for strikes. His one difficult inning came in the third. The Royals loaded the bases with one out and had their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters due. Sale struck out Billy Butler and got Moustakas to pop out weakly to second baseman Gordon Beckham.

The Sox broke out on top in the bottom of the fifth on a solo home run by catcher Tyler Flowers, who at least for one day quieted concerns about whether he'll be a suitable replacement for the departed A.J. Pierzynski.

Sale cruised until the eighth inning when he gave up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar. At that point, Sox manager Robin Ventura went to his bullpen. Nate Jones relieved and struggled. He allowed Escobar to steal second, walked Butler and uncorked a wild pitch. Suddenly, the Royals had the potential tying run on third and the potential go-ahead run on first.

Matt Thornton relieved Jones and struck out Moustakas on three pitches, putting an end to the Kansas City threat. Addison Reed walked a batter in the top of the ninth, but got three outs for his first save of the season.

It was a good start for the Sox, who followed the formula they are going to have to use to be successful in this 2013 season. They got outstanding starting pitching. They played flawless defense, and the bullpen got the job done. I don't expect the Sox to be a great offensive team this year. But one through 12, the South Siders have a good pitching staff. They also have a good defensive team.

It would serve the Sox well to make this Opening Day game a blueprint.