Cubs will see what theyre made of against Halladay, Phillies

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Cubs will see what theyre made of against Halladay, Phillies

A Cubs team looking for any kind of offensive spark now gets the best pitcher on the planet.

The Cubs knew it was coming, a brutal early schedule filled with teams expecting to play deep into October.

It happens to be two-time Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay and the Phillies on Friday night, in front of what should be another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

But it started Opening Day against Stephen Strasburg, a run of high-end pitching that helps explain why the Cubs are 6-13: Gio Gonzalez, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Mark Buehrle and Adam Wainwright (twice).

The Cubs will miss aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee whos on the disabled list with a strained left oblique during this four-game series. Franchise players Ryan Howard (torn Achilles) and Chase Utley (knee) are also on the DL.

Dale Sveum will crunch the numbers and try to manipulate the matchups. But the Cubs manager can only do so much against the Phillies (9-10 with a 2.88 team ERA).

Its going to be tough to score runs and put things together, Sveum said. Thats why theyve got one of the best pitching staffs over the last few years.

Hopefully, getting into more of a hitters park we can hit some home runs and you got to do that against those kind of pitchers, because its just hard to string hits together. They dont walk anybody either.

Over the winter, the Cubs consciously avoided adding a proven big bat to their lineup, and theyre paying for it now. Theyve scored more than four runs only four times this season and only once in their last 11 games.

The Cubs woke up on Thursday last in the National League with seven home runs (and four were hit by Bryan LaHair). They were next-to-last in slugging percentage (.333). They are hitting .211 with runners in scoring position.

We knew the schedule was going to be tough, Sveum said. But, hey, thats Major League Baseball. A lot of teams have really good starting pitching now. Thats part of the game and you got to find a way to scratch runs out and have good at-bats and get leads.

Yes, these are small sample sizes. But combined, Geovany Soto and Ian Stewart went 2-for-34 on the homestand that ended Wednesday. Sotos hitting .140 with one RBI so far this season, while Stewarts at .175.

Alfonso Soriano seems to have a better approach, and has driven in 10 runs, but hes stuck on one extra-base hit this month.

Thats the last thing on my mind losing confidence, Soriano said. I have 11 years in this game. Ive played this game consistently. I know what I can do. We play 162 games. Sometimes you have a bad week, two weeks, but its a six-month (deal). The season isnt over.

The seasons first six weeks will be telling for Cubs management, because 21 of their first 39 games are against the Phillies, Cardinals and Brewers, three playoffs teams in 2011.

This road trip continues to Cincinnati, where the Reds are a trendy pick to win the division. The Cubs will return to Wrigley Field on May 4 for a homestand against the Dodgers and Braves, who combined won 171 games last season.

You want that, utility man Jeff Baker said. If you can play well against those teams and you can do some damage, you can get the confidence going. You can get the city behind you.

If you go out there and youre playing some teams that didnt have a great year last year and you beat em, then everyone says youre supposed to beat em.

As players, you want to go out there and play against those tough teams. For us, if its early, so be it. Well take our chances and roll with it.

So this could be revealing. Tony Campana who has five hits and four stolen bases in five games will try to maximize his opportunity after the Marlon Byrd trade and give the Cubs a different dimension.

Randy Wells, who gets the ball on Saturday, will try to force the issue and grab a spot in the rotation. You can pretty much go up and down the roster, because new president Theo Epstein is taking this year to assess the entire organization.

Starting with Halladay (3-1, 1.50 ERA), the Cubs will begin to find out what theyre made of in South Philly.

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Miami QB Brad Kaaya

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Miami QB Brad Kaaya

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

6'4" | 214 lbs.

2016 stats:

3,532 YDS, 62.0 CMP%, 27 TD, 7 INT, 150.3 QBR

Projection:

Third/Fourth round

Scouting Report:

"Groomed to be a quarterback from an early age, Kaaya flashes the mechanics and intelligence of a player who has spent hours in quarterback camps. However, he can be too mechanical and thinks too much rather than just flowing and responding to what the field offers him. Kaaya could have used another year of college, but he has the tools and intangibles to become an NFL starter. While he can work around his average arm strength, he must improve his accuracy and anticipation if he is to make a mark in the NFL." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Video analysis provided by Rotoworld and NBC Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles