13 Things: The highlights of 2011

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13 Things: The highlights of 2011

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011Posted: 7:45 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
CLEVELAND - With the Chicago White Sox desperately striving to finish even as well .500 this season, you could certainly say that there have been as many highlights as lowlights in this All-In season that ended up flatulent and deflated. But in the interest of staring at the sun instead of getting soggy in the rain, heres a look at the top 13 moments of the 2011, All-In turned Well-Were-Here season.

And the list is made all the more appropriate by the top spot on the list, which took place almost six months ago in this very spot.

1. April 1: White Sox 16, Indians 10 -- Offense hits the ground running

Just four innings into the 2011 season, the White Sox had jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Cleveland Indians, who would become the darlings of the American League before dropping back down to .500. The Pale Hose offense was terrible in the Cactus League, but 11 hits and 10 runs off of presumptive Wahoos ace Fausto Carmona made it look like the White Sox would coast to the Central title. Adam Dunn and Carlos Quentin would combine to go 5-for-9 with two homersnine RBIs and six Sox had two or more hits.

As we now know, this outburst would turn out to be the biggest April Fools joke in White Sox history. But for one day two, actually, as the next Wahoo trouncing, 8-3, kept the Pale Hose a half-game ahead of everyone in the Central at least the team was in fulfilling its promise, bolstered by the highest-octane offense in baseball.

2. April 25: White Sox 2, Yankees 1 -- Heroes Humber and Lillibridge

Opening the White Soxs visit to the Bronx began with the White Sox flailing at 8-14 and GM Ken Williams flying into town after being grumbled at by any number of furious fans while he awaited his plane at OHare to assure that all was calm at White Sox central.

In just his fourth start for the White Sox, Phil Humber took a no-hitter one out into the sixth inning and still managed to be upstaged. Thats because defensive substitution Brent Lillibridge made back-to-back brilliant plays in the ninth, the first on a run back to the wall to rob Alex Rodriguez of extra bases, then the clincher on a diving catch parallel to the ground, extinguishing Robinson Canos bid to win the game.

I found my closer, a smiling Ozzie Guillen said postgame. Lillibridge.

3. April 7: White Sox 6, Rays 1 -- Velo perfection

There was a time when I felt Edwin Jackson would, in a salary drive year, become the ace of the White Sox staff. That certainly didnt happen, as Velo was just as exasperating a hurler as ever. But he did win his first two starts and spun a gem of a game in the White Sox home opener, with eight innings of four-hit, 13-strikeout ball. His game score of 82 would be the fourth-highest all year.

4. May 11: White Sox 6, Angels 4 (10) -- Wild pitch offense

In perhaps the most hilarious comeback of the season, L.A. reliever Kevin Jepsen provided the White Sox the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 10th by airmailing the first pitch of an intentional walk 10 feet over the head of catcher Hank Conger, scoring Alexei Ramirez from third.

In mockery of the White Sox awful performance driving in runners from third base, this improbable win gave berth to the wildpitchoffense hashtag on Twitter, one that sadly was never killed off by the White Sox actually gaining proficiency in clutch hitting this season.
5. July 4: White Sox 5, Royals 4 -- Balk-off win

Its a joke waiting to be written: What was more rare this season, a clutch Dunn homer or a winning run coming home on a balk? The answer might end in a tie, as two white buffalos were bagged in this comeback win. The first came off the bat of Dunn, a towering fly of a home run that landed just beyond reach in right-center, as Sox maniacs hoped against hope that his .171 average would soon swell as the nights heated up. Meanwhile, after Dunns dinger gave the White Sox the lead in the eighth, but that advantage dissipated as K.C. went ham on Sergio Santos in the ninth. That set the stage for A.J. Pierzynski, who was operating at peak feist on third base, annoying reliever Aaron Crow to such an extent that he jerked his shoulder subtly as Dunn stood at the plate, forcing home the Campbell Soup kid with the game-winner.

6. August 28: White Sox 9, Mariners 3 -- The power of youth

The weirdest saga of this sad season took an interesting turn in Seattle, when Dayan Viciedo made his debut some two months later than anticipated, finally getting the call to aid Chicagos withered offense after hed put himself in the International League MVP discussion for his ball murdering at Charlotte. All Viciedo did was crush a liner out to right-center in near Dick Allen-esque fashion. That three-run blast woud prove to be enough for Gavin Floyd, but later on catcher Tyler Flowers pounded out a grand slam, making this rare laugher of a win fully fueled by the Knight Sox.

7. August 27: White Sox 3, Mariners 0 -- Danks tosses a gem

Just one day earlier, another erstwhile Pale Hose ace, John Danks, threw a gem of a game in defeating Ms rookie hurler Micheal Pieda, giving up just three hits while whiffing 10 and earning a season-high to that point game score of 90. The win also raised the streaking Dankss record to 6-9 sadly the closest hed get to .500 from that point on.
8. April 12: White Sox 6, As 5 (10) -- Alexeis game-winner

With just 15 home runs tied with his lowest-ever major league output there hasnt been much occasion for mister Homer Hands to show off his joy at a killer clout. But early in the season, things looked different, especially in the 11th game of the season, when Ramirez not only hit his second career game-ending homer, but hit two, for his first career multi-homer game. The decider came with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, and raised the White Sox to 7-4. Believe it or not, it was the last and only time the team would be three games over .500.

9. September 5: White Sox 4, Twins 0 -- Stewart chases perfection

The doubleheader vs. the Twins was billed as a possible battle between two young hurlers for the fifth rotation spot for the White Sox in the seasons final month, and Humber had already spun a gem in a Game 1 win. But rookie Zach Stewart raised the ante by taking a perfect game into the eighth inning, where Danny Valencia spoiled the bit with an oppo double. It would prove the only at-bat marring Stewarts brilliant outing, as he finished with a White Sox season-best 94 game score and a one-hitter en route to a 4-0 win.

10. May 30: White Sox 7, Red Sox 3 -- Peavy fuels a sweep

Sometimes for better, sometimes worse, but Jake Peavy usually garners an unusual amount of attention with his every start. And per game score, the Bulldog had three better starts in his truncated season. But none may have been more important that his 7-3 win at Boston, which would fuel a three-game streak and further entrench the Pale Hoses domination at Fenway. The game was perhaps more notable for the Chicago offense jumping all over Bosox ace Jon Lester, but whatever the root cause, this win temporarily staved off the free-fall the White Sox were in danger of falling into with the season just two months gone.

11. May 24: White Sox 8, Rangers 6 -- Q triples his fun

Quentin is infamously hot and cold, but a slugger cant get much hotter in a single game than crushing three homers in a single contest, even if that contest ends at 1:27 a.m. the next day. Indeed, not even tornado-force wins, delaying the game three hours and forcing various methods of evacuation from Rangers Ballpark, could deter Quentin, who had his most productive day in a 24-homer, 77-RBI campaign in this soggy victory deep in the heart of. And of curious sidenote, Tony Pea got his final White Sox victory in relief of Peavy in the win.

12. June 30: White Sox 6, Rockies 4 (10) -- Pierre kick starts

Guillen is known to shake his tiny fist at his naysayers, particularly those of us who might lean on dastardly stats to determine who should play and who should sit, or who should stay and who should go. The manager placed Juan Pierre beloved left fielder straight in the line of fire over the Viciedo debate, but was vindicated to some degree by his beloved left fielder when his rebound began. Although he has undoubtedly lost a step on the basepaths and a great deal of confidence in the field, offensively Pierre equaled his solid 2010 in this campaign as well. And that all basically started with a game-winning single to knock off Colorado in extras and help fuel Chicagos run back to .500.

13. June 7: White Sox 5, Mariners 1 -- Sox start to hit

In a season full of false offensive starts, this was another. After knocking off hot rookie Pieda in the series opener in Seattle, Chicago chased ace Felix Hernandez with a 6-1 win. To a man and including the slumping Dunn and Gordon Beckham the White Sox felt their offense was beginning to crest and that promise would be delivered soon.

It ended up a season of empty promises, but these choice moments from 2011 prove that all wasnt pain and heartache on the South Side.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”