Mary Dixon: On baseball's Opening Day every player is an All Star and every skipper is a potential Manager of the Year. The Cubs begin play at home today with the Brewers, while the White Sox will be in Houston tonight to play the World Series champion Astros. WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye Stout is here to talk about whether this is gonna be the year for either team. Good morning, Cheryl.
Cheryl Raye Stout: Good morning.
Mary Dixon: So the White Sox have a new manager Pedro Grifol, who has never managed a game in MLB yet. What can we expect from the South Siders?
Cheryl Raye Stout: Well, he's got a challenge at him because this team did not perform last year like everyone expected him to. And with Pedro, he's been in baseball for 28 years and 10 years with the Kansas City Royals. And he's going to be stressing fundamentals, and he's going to have like, a take charge attitude. So he's got to be concerned with keeping his players healthy. Health has been their issue. Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. Those our players that missed a lot of time because of their injuries, so it's important to get them back.
Mary Dixon: And how are they addressing injuries and staying healthy?
Cheryl Raye Stout: They hired a new senior director of sports performance. His name is Geoff Head. And what they're gonna do is work on nutrition, their sleep studies, they're going to have daily routines to try to get these guys to be in a healthy spot. And Yasmani Grandal on his own, the White Sox catcher who also was out a lot last year, he went to the Blackhawks trainer, the strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman.
Mary Dixon: Why is that?
Cheryl Raye Stout: He's a catcher. What do you think needs a lot of help like that in hockey? Your goaltender.
Mary Dixon: Oh, right, right, right. Because you're always crouching and stretching and, oh man. Okay.
Cheryl Raye Stout: These are all parts of this team that have to be able to play more than 79, 90 games.
Mary Dixon: Going on to the Cubs, they've held on to manager David Ross this year. They've signed an all star shortstop, Dansby Swanson. They have moved Nico Hoerner back to second base. What could we expect on the North Side?
Cheryl Raye Stout: By signing Swanson, by moving Nico Hoerner from shortstop to second, they really solidified that infield. They also signed Cody Bellinger from the Dodgers and he doesn't hit very well. But what it did is it made the up the middle solid. They've got some really solid defense which what they want, especially with the pitchers that they have. Behind the plate you don't have Willson Contreras anymore. So you do have Yan Gomes and you do have Tucker Barnhart, who are solid defensive players. Now, the sad part is Seiya Suzuki won't be in right field at first because he's got an injury. But Trey Mancini, he's probably gonna play out there. Eric Hosmer will be playing at first. I'm mentioning all these players, all these players are either a gold glover or they played for a World Series team. So there's a pedigree there that, that really needed to be injected into this team.
Mary Dixon: As the season progresses for both teams, what are the signs of success as you watch these games?
Cheryl Raye Stout: They need to get their offensive going, they need to play solid defense and their starting pitching has got to be able to perform at least five plus innings, because then you have to rely on your bullpens. You know, after that and with the White Sox not having Liam Hendriks because he is dealing with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. That's a concern for them. But you really want to see, especially with the new rules, you want your left handers to be able to get hits to the right side and get those hits.
Mary Dixon: You referred to rules changes, every offseason MLB you know, kind of futzes with the rules book. What should we be looking for?
Cheryl Raye Stout: Faster games. In spring training, they went down to 2 hours and 30 minutes. That's a big deal. Pitchers have 15 seconds to throw a pitch. They have 20 seconds if there's a runner on base. The batter has to be able to get there ready to hit with eight seconds left. It moves the game along. If there's somebody on first base and the pitcher throws there for a pick off, he has two times to try on the third time, if he doesn't get that runner gets to go to second base. So that's a huge difference for them. And then they also have the bigger bases. And the bigger bases is going to allow for more stealing. They say there's less injuries because there's no collisions like they usually have. So those are really big important rules that they've changed.
Mary Dixon: Cheryl Raye Stout is WBEZ's sports contributor. Thanks Cheryl.
Cheryl Raye Stout: Thank you.
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