Monday, April 6, 2015

White Sox, Royals set for AL Central showdown

The last time the Royals played a game at Kauffman Stadium, they battled the Giants to the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 in the World Series.
That one didn't end up in Kansas City's favor, with Alex Gordon stranded on third base as the potential tying run, but the new season begins for the defending American League champions on the same diamond Monday at 3:10 p.m. CT.
Not that it will be easy. The Royals' beefed-up division rival from Chicago figures to make it a compelling lid-lifter to a 2015 full of intrigue.
The White Sox have reloaded their pitching rotation and lineup, and they'll put one of their shiny new acquisitions on display right away by starting right-hander Jeff Samardzija against Yordano Ventura in an early AL Central pitchers' duel.
Samardzija came to the South Siders in an offseason trade with Oakland, and the White Sox didn't stop there. They also added outfielder Melky Cabrera and designated hitter Adam LaRoche to a lineup that already included 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu in an effort to not only move past Kansas City, but also last year's division champion, the Detroit Tigers.
Samardzija pitched to a 2.99 ERA last season and struck out 202 batters in 219 2/3 innings while splitting time between the Cubs and A's. And with a foot injury delaying the 2015 debut of White Sox ace Chris Sale, the former All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame gets another chance to shine in the Opening Day spotlight. Samardzija also pitched the opener for the Cubs in 2013 and '14.
"The football [background] that he has, and the athletic part of him, just attitude-wise and everything, it suits up well for him to be able to have an Opening Day [start]," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Guys will be excited with him. Personality-wise, he likes to go after it."
Yordano Ventura does, too. In fact, his average fastball velocity of 97 mph, according to FanGraphs.com, led all of baseball in 2014, and was one of the main reasons Ventura went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 183 innings in his first full big league season.
Ventura, 23, gained valuable big-game experience in the postseason, with a Game 6 World Series victory and a 1.46 ERA in two Fall Classic starts. Now, with former ace James Shields departed to San Diego via free agency, Ventura gets the call to toe the slab for a championship team that returns most of its 2014 core, which featured the best defense in the Major Leagues and one of the best bullpens, too.
"I like their focus," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They've come in with a definite mindset. We know they play with a lot of energy and passion. But coming off a World Series, they have come in with even more passion and energy.
"It was a great accomplishment last year, but I don't think anyone was satisfied with that. Their actions and focus show that every single day here."

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