Opening Day FAQ: White Sox vs. Astros
HOUSTON -- The Astros will try to keep their Opening Day unbeaten streak when they open the 2023 season against the White Sox on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
A pair of top five finishers in the 2022 American League Cy Young race -- lefty Framber Valdez of the Astros and right-hander Dylan Cease of the White Sox -- will get Opening Day starts. Houston will unveil its 2022 World Series championship banner pregame.
The Astros, who won 106 games last year and romped through the playoffs -- going 11-2 and beating the Phillies in six games to win their second title in six years -- haven’t lost on Opening Day since they moved to the AL. They’re 10-0 in that span and will be playing the White Sox for the first time to begin a season.
The White Sox, who were eliminated from the playoffs by the Astros in 2021, will be led by first-year manager Pedro Grifol, who will be making his managerial debut. He served the previous three seasons as the Royals’ bench coach under Mike Matheny. The White Sox have lost four consecutive games on Opening Day.
When is the game and how can I watch it? 6:08 p.m. CT, ESPN
What are the lineups?
Tim Anderson, SS
Luis Robert Jr., CF
Andrew Vaughn, 1B
Eloy Jiménez, DH
Yoán Moncada, 3B
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Elvis Andrus, 2B
Romy Gonzalez, RF
Jeremy Peña, SS
Alex Bregman, 3B
Yordan Alvarez, LF
José Abreu, 1B
Kyle Tucker, RF
Yainer Diaz, DH
Jake Meyers, CF
Martín Maldonado C
Mauricio Dubón, 2B
Who are the starting pitchers?
White Sox: RHP Dylan Cease
Cease (14-8, 2.20 last year) is making his first career Opening Day start, breaking a streak of three straight Opening Day starts by Lucas Giolito. Cease finished second in the 2022 American League Cy Young voting behind then-Astro Justin Verlander and becomes the seventh White Sox hurler since 2015 to get an Opening Day nod. Cease struck out 227 last year against a Major League-high 78 walks in 184 innings pitched, He is 0-3 with a 6.30 ERA over four career starts against the Astros and is 0-1 in one start at Minute Maid.
Astros: LHP Framber Valdez
Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA last year) is making his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Astros. Last year, the bulldog lefty led the AL in innings (201 1/3), quality starts (26), home runs per nine innings (0.49) and ground-ball percentage (67.3), while ranking second in wins and opponent’s OPS (.600). He set a Major League record with 25 consecutive quality starts from April 25-Sept. 18. Valdez parlayed those numbers into a fifth-place AL Cy Young finish.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
With Liam Hendriks undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Grifol has decided not to go with a set closer at the season’s open. That takes the pressure off a single pitcher to anchor the ninth, but Chicago has a number of high-leverage, late-inning options. Reynaldo Lopez would be a prime candidate, having thrived in the bullpen and hitting 100 mph during Cactus League action. Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly and Aaron Bummer also are candidates, with José Ruiz as the X-factor after a dominant showing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Valdez is a workhorse starter who failed to throw at least six innings only five times in 31 regular-season starts last year. With that in mind, he’s got the best bullpen in baseball behind him, led by All-Star closer Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, Hector Neris and Ryne Stanek. The Astros had the best relief ERA (2.80), best strikeout rate (28.3%), best fielding independent pitching (3.05) and best left-on-base percentage (76.8%) of any team in baseball last season and were untouchable in the postseason.
Any injuries of note?
Moncada is dealing with lower back soreness, although the White Sox don’t seem overly concerned at this point regarding the issue.
All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve fractured his right thumb in the World Baseball Classic on March 19 and will miss at least two months after having surgery. Right-handed starter Lance McCullers Jr. strained a forearm muscle throwing in the bullpen Feb. 14 and will begin the year in the injured list. Veteran left-fielder Michael Brantley will begin the year on the injured list while he finishes his recovery from August right shoulder surgery.
Who’s hot and who’s not?
Seby Zavala, the No. 2 catcher, is tied for the team lead with five home runs … Jiménez is slashing .433/.500/.500 this spring entering Tuesday and has hit safely in seven of his last 10 Cactus League games … Hanser Alberto is slashing .450/.477/.780 with six doubles, one triple, two home runs and six RBIs.
Peña was 11-for-34 (.324) in the spring and led the Astros with three homers in Grapefruit League play to go along with nine RBIs. … Abreu hit .292 in a team-high 48 at-bats with two homers and 11 RBIs. … Due to playing in the World Baseball Classic, Tucker had only 19 at-bats in Grapefruit League play and had eight hits (.421). … Maldonado was 1-for-15 in the Grapefruit League.
Anything else fans might want to know?
Altuve (fractured thumb) isn’t starting on Opening Day for the Astros for the first time since 2011. The last second baseman besides Altuve to start on Opening Day for the Astros was Bill Hall. … Abreu signed a three-year deal with the Astros in the offseason after spending his first nine Major League seasons with the White Sox. The 2020 American League Most Valuable Player, 2014 AL Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger winner, Abreu finished his White Sox career as the team’s third-leading all-time home run hitter with 243. … Houston’s 10 consecutive Opening Day wins is tied for the Major League record. The Boston Beaneaters won 10 straight from 1887-96. … Grifol is the fifth White Sox manager since 2016, when factoring in bench coach Miguel Cairo’s time as interim manager in ‘22.