Jeff Samardzija vs. Jose Quintana: Who starts Opening Day?

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The Chicago White Sox had a scare last week when Chris Sale injured his foot unloading his truck. The initial diagnosis was for him to be out three weeks which would have him getting his first action at the end of spring training.

With Sale missing most of the spring, he will likely need a couple of weeks to get his arm in game shape once deemed healthy which puts him out as the Opening Day starter against the Kansas City Royals on Monday, April 6.

Feb 28, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija poses for a portrait during photo day at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves the question of who steps in place to make the team’s first start of the regular season: Jeff Samardzija or Jose Quintana?

Samardzija was the Chicago Cubs opening day starter each of the last two seasons, and has pitched well under the pressure. In ’13 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he went eight innings, struck out nine and didn’t allow a run. The following year, he once again faced the Pirates pitching seven innings of scoreless ball.

In addition to that, the White Sox are hopeful they can either extend or re-sign Samardzija as he will be a free agent after the season. Any sign of good faith and respect to Samardzija can only help convince him that Chicago should be considered home beyond this season.

And then there is star power that comes with Samardzija.

Every team in baseball wants to be able to sell out their home opener (Friday, April 10 vs. the Minnesota Twins). It is well-known that Samardzija was a White Sox fan growing up in Indiana and is beloved in the town for his years as a two sport athlete (football and baseball) with the University of Notre Dame. If you asked the fans which pitcher they would pay to see, we all know the answer.

That is because Quintana is the quiet, consistent, steady pitcher that people don’t notice and the White Sox covet. Since being discarded by the Yankees in 2011, he has had nothing but success in Chicago.

Quintana has thrown at least 200 innings each of the last two seasons and has seen his ERA drop every year he has been in the majors. His record of 9-11 didn’t do him justice as the White Sox bullpen couldn’t hold leads in ’14. Quintana’s 12 no-decisions last season was among the league leaders (Baltimore’s Chris Tillman led with 16).

It’s common around baseball to see team’s turn to players that have tenure as opposed to a new face with no achievements with the team. The Washington Nationals are the perfect example as they are looking to decide between the newly acquired Max Scherzer or Jordan Zimmerman for Opening Day. The New York Mets also are considering turning to 41-year old Bartolo Colon over young phenoms Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom.

When looking at the Opening Day matchup against the Kansas City Royals, there are a few things to consider.

John Danks is the one pitcher in the rotation that had success against the Royals last season. In three games, he was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA and held them to a .176 average in 20 innings. Starting Quintana in game one guarantees Danks a start against the Royals in game three. Of course it isn’t out of the question to see two lefties (Quintana and Danks) go back-to-back but it makes more since to alternate arms if it can be done.

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This scenario allows Hector Noesi to face the light-hitting Minnesota Twins and potentially be skipped the second time around if Sale can return by April 17 when the White Sox spend a weekend in Detroit. If Samardzija starts Opening Day, the White Sox may want to turn to Noesi for game three against Kansas City to break up the lefties.

Samardzija is second only to Sale in the White Sox rotation, but it makes the most sense to give Quintana the nod to start the season. It will be interesting to see if the White Sox work from a similar frame of mind.

Next: Will 2015 be a breakout season for Tim Anderson?

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