The Chicago White Sox maintained the best record in the American League, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Saturday.

White Sox closer Liam Hendriks came up big in the ninth inning, leaving the bases loaded after intentionally walking Rays pinch-hitter Choi Ji-man, with Michael Kopech throwing a solid opening five innings

Jose Abreu also hit his first home run for the season, going long off Corey Kluber to also get Tim Anderson home and give the White Sox a 2-1 lead coming into the fifth inning.

In what's been an off opening for Abreu despite the hot start for the team overall, the two-run homer came at an ideal time, taking him to six hits out of 28 at-bats so far this season.

The White Sox have now won six of their past seven, leading the AL Central with a 6-2 record - their best start since 2016.

Pache propels A's to win in Toronto

Cristian Pache hit a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning as the Oakland Athletics broke a six-game losing streak in Toronto, coming up 7-5 winners against the Blue Jays.

Pache launched the 1-0 pitch from Julian Merryweather into the right-field bullpen for his first home run of the season and only the second of his career.

The Blue Jays' Matt Chapman and Zack Collins homered on consecutive pitches from Domingo Avecedo in the sixth inning to cut the 5-2 deficit, but the A's eventually held out to move to 5-4 for the season.

Bogaerts bounces back as Red Sox shut out Twins

Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo each hit two-run home runs as Tanner Houck helped keep the Minnesota Twins scoreless, with the Boston Red Sox winning 4-0.

Houck allowed just two hits and three walks while striking out four in just over five innings, while Twins starter Sonny Gray threw just 31 pitches, along with allowing the homer to Verdugo in just the second inning.

Bogaerts sent the Red Sox on their way in the third inning, crushing reliever Josh Winder's pitch over the famous Green Monster.

Jose Abreu tested negative for COVID-19 and is set to link with the Chicago White Sox ahead of their American League Division Series (ALDS) opener against the Houston Astros.

Abreu – the reigning AL MVP – had been dealing with flu-like symptoms and did not travel with the White Sox to Houston on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, White Sox manager Tony La Russa confirmed star Abreu would link up with the team and be a game-day decision for Thursday's Game 1 in the best-of-five series at Minute Maid Park.

"He caught a bit of the flu," La Russa told a news conference. "He got to the workout [in Chicago] and he had been through a tough night with fever.

"Now we're all brimming with happiness and excitement because his fever broke and he passed the test, which [is] mandatory and he'll be flying back here tonight [Wednesday]."

Abreu – a three-time Silver Slugger and three-time All-Star – batted .261 with 30 home runs and 117 RBIs during the regular season.

The 34-year-old also had a franchise-best slugging percentage of .481 and OPS of .831 in 2021, along with 86 runs and 148 hits from 566 at-bats.

"I think he's the biggest key that we need healthy," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson added. "But I'm sure you know, we all know, how stubborn he is, and you know he's not going to want to sit out. He's not going to be happy about that."

The White Sox also announced Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito as their starters for Game 1 and 2 against the Astros.

Chicago finished the regular season at 93-69 to top the AL Central, while the Astros were 95-67 to lead the AL West division.

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw returned to form as the World Series champions crushed the helpless Oakland Athletics 5-1 in MLB action on Tuesday.

Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young Award winner – struggled on Opening Day following a difficult Spring Training campaign for the Dodgers.

But Kershaw bounced back against the winless Athletics, striking out eight batters across seven solid innings in Oakland.

Kershaw allowed one run and four hits and did not walk a batter as the star pitcher retired 20 of 22 opponents for the Dodgers, who won their fifth consecutive game.

Dodgers team-mate Mookie Betts homered for the first time this season, while team-mates Max Muncy and Edwin Rios also went long for the visitors.

In New York, three-time All-Star Gerrit Cole impressed with a 13-strikeout gem – his most in a regular-season game since joining the franchise in 2020 – as the Yankees made light work of the Baltimore Orioles 7-2.

Yankees ace Cole allowed four hits without a walk over seven scoreless innings, while slugger Aaron Judge and Jay Bruce homered at Yankee Stadium.

Per Stats Perform, Cole already has 21 punchouts this season – tying Al Downing (1964) for the most by any Yankees pitcher in his first two starts of a season.

 

Reds flying after slow start

The Cincinnati Reds humbled the Pittsburgh Pirates 14-1. Cincinnati allowed 11 runs on Opening Day but have proceeded to score 40 runs over their next four games. According to Stats Perform, they are the first National League (NL) team to allow 10-plus runs in their first game and then tally 40-plus runs over the next four since the 1877 Louisville Grays (47 runs).

Juan Soto was the hero for the Washington Nationals, hitting a walk-off home run in the ninth inning in a 6-5 victory against the Atlanta Braves.

American League (AL) MVP Jose Abreu crushed his second grand slam of the season to lead the Chicago White Sox to a 10-4 success against the Seattle Mariners.

 

Roark rocked in Texas

Tanner Roark's first start of the season for the Toronto Blue Jays was a dismal one. The veteran pitcher gave up three homers – five runs – in three innings as the Blue Jays lost 7-4 to the Texas Rangers. He finished with a 15.00 ERA for the night.

 

The Baddoo legend grows

Akil Baddoo continued his amazing start to his MLB career. After homering on his very first pitch in the big leagues on Sunday, Baddoo hit a grand slam on Monday. Not satisfied with that, he hit a walk-off homer to lift the Detroit Tigers past the Minnesota Twins 4-3 – in just his third appearance.

 

Tuesday's results

Detroit Tigers 4-3 Minnesota Twins
Washington Nationals 6-5 Atlanta Braves
Houston Astros 4-2 Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees 7-2 Baltimore Orioles
Cincinnati Reds 14-1 Pittsburgh Pirates
St Louis Cardinals 4-2 Miami Marlins
New York Mets 8-4 Philadelphia Phillies
Boston Red Sox 6-5 Tampa Bay Rays
Milwaukee Brewers 4-0 Chicago Cubs
Texas Rangers 7-4 Toronto Blue Jays
Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 Oakland Athletics
San Diego Padres 3-1 San Francisco Giants
Chicago White Sox 10-4 Seattle Mariners
Arizona Diamondbacks 10-8 Colorado Rockies

 

Braves at Nationals

After finally opening their season, the coronavirus-hit Nationals (1-0) will look to stay undefeated in a doubleheader against the winless Braves (0-4) on Wednesday. Erick Fedde will start game one for the Nationals against Atlanta's Max Fried, while ace Stephen Strasbourg takes to the mound in the second clash as the Braves counter with Huascar Ynoa.

Expectations are high in Chicago as the White Sox set their sights on the World Series.

Gone are the days of 100-loss seasons, with 2018's 62-100 record consigned to bitter memory. The White Sox are in contention mode after catapulting themselves into the mix last year, with a rebuild firmly in the rear-view mirror following a remarkable ascent during the 2020 coronavirus-shortened MLB season.

Led by American League (AL) MVP Jose Abreu, the White Sox returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But it is win-now for the White Sox, who swapped manager Rick Renteria for Hall of Famer Tony La Russa in pursuit of a first World Series crown in 16 years.

Liam Hendriks is another new face in Chicago as the White Sox look to emerge from the shadows of city rivals the Cubs, who claimed the ultimate prize in 2016.

All eyes are on the White Sox in 2021 and while most projections tip La Russa's team to do well, All-Star closer Hendriks and his team-mates are focused on silencing the naysayers.

There will be a limited number of White Sox fans allowed to attend their home opener on April 8 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after the team visit the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Day (April 1).

"There's been some projections that said we will be pretty good this year, but there's been some that we've taken a little offensively," Hendriks told Stats Perform News. "We're focusing more on the bad ones.

"The mindset we gotta take is 'you guys don't think we're gonna get to 95, 100 or however many wins, we're gonna prove you wrong and watch us do what we need to do and we're gonna go out there and make sure we win this division'.

"The biggest thing is making sure we prove people wrong. It's time for the city of Chicago to get on the White Sox bandwagon, it's been on the Cubs one for too long now."

The White Sox snapped a 12-year postseason drought in 2020 – officially going from rebuilder to contender.

They were the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot, but only won three of their remaining 12 regular-season games as the White Sox took their foot off the pedal.

It proved detrimental as Hendriks and the Oakland Athletics eliminated the White Sox in the Wild Card Round.

Having contributed to the White Sox's demise, 2019 All-Star Hendriks now finds himself at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the experienced Australian signed a three-year, $54million contract via free agency – a record annual average salary for a relief pitcher at $18m.

"They did a really good job with their team last season," Hendriks said. "They had a bunch of good players and guys developing they were hoping for. Hopefully we can take it into this year.

"The big thing for me is keeping the foot on the gas for as long as we can. They self-admitted that once they clinched a playoff spot last year, they kind of got too relaxed, they thought they'd made it.

"All of sudden, they went 3-12 the last two weeks and they were looking at a wildcard spot instead of hosting a series. That's big difference."

Hendriks was named Reliever of the Year in the American League in 2020 after finishing with a 3-1 record, a 1.78 ERA, a 0.67 WHIP, 14 saves (second best in MLB), 37 strikeouts and three walks over 24 appearances and 25.3 innings.

His WHIFF percentage (swings and misses/pitches) was 180 last season – sixth best in MLB last season among pitchers who faced at least 50 batters. Compared to his new White Sox team-mates, Lucas Giolito (141) was the closest to that figure, well ahead of Codi Heuer (128), Lance Lynn (125) and Dallas Keuchel (81).

"The big thing I'm hoping to bring in is that intensity. It doesn't matter, you could clinch in July but that last month of the season is more absolutely more important than anything because that's when you get the momentum going into the playoffs and that's the one thing we have to focus on," said Hendriks, who spent four years with the Athletics before moving to Chicago at the end of 2020.

"The other thing, just dealing with some of the young guys in the bullpen. They had a good first taste of the big leagues last year but this is generally the year where guys have their biggest struggles – that sophomore slump.

"They think they have it all figured out but the league makes adjustments. Being able to deal with that and bounce ideas off the veteran guys out there is important. That's why bringing in guys like Lance Lynn, who's won a ring before, is a big deal."

Hendriks joins a bullpen that boasts World Series champions in Keuchel (also an AL Cy Young Award winner) and Lynn, as well 2019 All-Star Giolito.

"The biggest thing is I'm not trying to stand out at all in this bullpen," the 32-year-old continued. "We have too many guys who can do too many special things.

"This is the part where I can lean on what has happened to me in my career. Me and Evan Marshall in the team – we've both had our ups and downs and bounced around a bit, but we've come to a position where we're at now.

"We have some guys out there who are younger, in the middle and guys like me and Evan who are a little older with kind of life experiences.

"We're not trying to stand out. We're just trying to make sure we're flowing as a unit. If one of us has a tough day, the next guy in line picks us up. That's how it's gotta be. It's not one guy coming to save the rescue, it's an entire collection.

"We're gonna have seven or eight guys out there and at certain points of the year, we're gonna have to rely on all seven or eight to get it done and making sure we have confidence in everyone at all times."

Not since 2005, when sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series, have the White Sox reigned supreme, but Hendriks added: "I think they have the right attitude [this year]. A lot of young guys. But this is a window that's not only open for just a year, but will be open for several years. I'm excited about being a part of that. They got a little taste of it last year.

"That's generally how it goes, you get your feet wet and the next year you're ready and know what to expect and embrace it. You don't let the moment get too big for you, you just take care of business. Hopefully we can make a bit of a run at it."

Hendriks is one of the MLB's superior closers, but it has not been an easy journey for the Perth native, rather a long and winding road taking him to the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, back to the Blue Jays and then the Athletics in 2016.

It was not until landing in Oakland and some words of wisdom from a tarot card reader that Hendriks truly felt that he belonged in the big leagues.

Since taking over as the Athletics' closer on June 21 in 2019, Hendriks has recorded a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings pitched, with 39 saves, 14.7 strikeout rate and a 0.79 WHIP in 65 appearances, which all rank first in the league.

"A lot of the time, I felt like I was just there," Hendriks said. "I didn't feel like I had a place where to succeed. I put ceilings on myself. I'd cap myself in statistical categories or whether it be in the role I was at – I'm not that guy, I'll never be at that point. Just hoping to eke out here and there.

"Then I had a bit of a come to Jesus moment, where I used some different sources. My wife actually connected us with a tarot card reader – Ruby. She had no idea about baseball and she still has zero idea about baseball. But she was like, 'okay, why can't you do that?'. Then you get thinking, 'she's right, why can't I?'.  Why can't I break that record or get to his position that I thought was unattainable? You take those ceilings off and restrictions away, all of a sudden let the engine purr a little bit and look where we are.

"There was a lot of perseverance and persistence. The biggest thing for me is trying to prove people wrong. There's a lot of people out there that say I can't do it again, can't do it again, can't do it again. Now, it's going out to prove them wrong – 'you don't think I can do it again? Watch me, this is what I'm gonna do'."

Hendriks, who was close to re-joining AL rivals the Blue Jays continued: "It comes down to having a positive mindset. I had a chat with the pitchers recently. I consider myself some kind of a leader. I wanted to see where their minds are at.

"On the board, I wrote FIGJAM – f*** I'm good, just ask me. That positive mindset is one of the biggest things. If you throw a pitch with conviction, a pitch that you really want to throw, it's going to be better than a perfectly placed other pitch because you had that vibe, intensity and aggressiveness behind it.

"Convincing these guys, your pitches get people out. It's not like, okay he is usually getting a hit.

"The best hitter in the league is going to get a hit three out of 10 times, that means we win seven out of 10 times. That's the best hitter in the league. Don't ever doubt yourself against anybody.

"Pitchers are better than hitters and that's what we need to prove every time. Prove that you're better than the hitter in every single moment. That's one of the things I've taken into it. No matter what happens, you can't hit my fastball. I'm just going to keep throwing it until you get close to it, then all of a sudden, I'll pull the string and throw something else.

"It's a little cat and mouse game but you have to have the confidence behind it."

Hendriks is somewhat of a ninth-inning specialist, having recorded a 1.42 ERA (third), 0.68 WHIP (first) last season in 19 games. Over the course of his career, he has managed 95 games in the ninth inning – only tallying more in the seventh inning since entering MLB.

Since 2018, Hendriks tops the list for ERA (1.81) in the ninth inning among pitchers to have pitched 50 innings, while his WHIP figure (0.80) is only second to Josh Hader (0.77).

So, is there an advantage to having a traditional closer as opposed to a more analytic or committee approach?

"I think there is," Hendriks insisted. "I may be a bit biased because I want the ninth inning. Just purely based on the fact that you'll see guys and they will be really good in the highest leveraged situations throughout the game or anything and then they struggle in the ninth inning. It's a different mindset, different way of approaching the ball.

"In saying that, it gives some fluidly. All of a sudden, if you're up by three, you know you're getting the ninth. If you know you're getting the ninth, you prepare for that inning. If you're not sure when you're going to pitch between the sixth and the ninth, the preparation gets a little different.

"Some guys are good at it, some guys aren't. I think any time you give a guy a certain role, it's easier to adapt. If you get that consistent role, you know what you need to do to get ready."

Data and artificial intelligence continue to play a huge role in MLB, and Hendriks added: "I have two separate ways of looking at it. I love the analytical side off the field because I love to be able to be able to compare and look at something and be like, 'okay, what was I doing when I was good, what was I doing when I was bad? What is the difference and this is one area I need to focus on'. Whether it be, for me, release height, release extension point, the spin axis, the spin rate and all that fun stuff.

"And as soon as the game hits, I don't know a single thing. I want to be as stupid as I can on the mound because as soon as you start overthinking things, you just start thinking that, you'll come up with some negative ideas and it snowballs.

"For me, I love the analytical stuff off field and ways to get better, but on the field, I want to be as dumb as possible. I use a company and they print out these little maps. The maps are colour-coordinated – get in the blue, blue is good and red is bad. It's the easiest thing for me to remember.

"I pull up my piece of paper in the bullpen, be like okay, so and so are coming up – blue, blue, blue. I don't even look at the red. I just notice where the blue is. So it's okay, fast balls up this guy is good. Easy. then I don't have to worry about anything else.

"It's a lot easier to play the game when you're not having to worry about anything else and letting everything take over."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.