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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.

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

When will Nick Madrigal reach the majors?

That, now that Luis Robert's path to an Opening Day roster spot has been cleared by a big-money contract extension, is the most pressing of the prospect-related queries facing the 2020 White Sox, a team that, it should be noted, will be turning its focus away from the minors and toward playing big league baseball in October for the first time in more than a decade.

Not unlike Robert, Madrigal shredded minor league pitching in 2019, playing at three levels and showing just how successful his elite bat-to-ball skills can make him as an offensive producer. He stepped to the plate 532 times and struck out only 16 times.

There's a reason even Rick Renteria is already calling the 22-year-old "Magic."

The general feeling seems to be that Madrigal will start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, though with the waiting game apparently over on the South Side and the intent to win as many games as possible, perhaps a strong showing at spring training will see Madrigal starting at second base in the March 26 opener.

That's a question better answered after the White Sox have been in Glendale for a few weeks.

But Madrigal's goal is clear.

"I definitely want to be in Chicago as soon as I can," Madrigal said earlier this week at the team's hitters' camp out in the desert. "I know they have a plan for me one way or another, but I think that’s the ultimate goal: being in Chicago and winning with that team.

"I know this offseason there’s been a lot of moves, and I’m excited to be a part of that, hopefully, in the near future. The ultimate goal is winning. There’s nothing else at this point."

Madrigal might not have blown the doors off the minors like Robert, who finished with a 30-30 season, but he wasn't fazed by climbing through the system. Madrigal put up good-not-great numbers in nearly 50 games at Class A Winston-Salem but exploded for a .341 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 42 games at Double-A Birmingham before batting .331 and reaching base at a .398 clip in 29 games at Charlotte.

That he didn't even reach 30 games in a Knights uniform could signal that the White Sox might prefer a little more seasoning, but he didn't see any problems facing the pitching at Triple-A.

“Honestly, it wasn’t too different at all. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before," he said. "There were some older guys in the league, more consistent arms. I thought it wasn’t anything too different.”

Madrigal's earning high praise all over the place, rated among the best prospects in the game. He's earned rave reviews for his ability on both sides of the ball, picked by team executives (in an MLB Pipeline poll) as having one of the best hit tools and gloves of any player in the minor leagues.

There still might be some skepticism, or perhaps mere curiosity, as to how Madrigal's skill set will translate to the major leagues. Players like him, who focus on making contact and putting the ball in play, are becoming rarer in today's game, which sees a focus on power and launch angle and an acceptance of strikeouts. His manager, one of "Magic's" biggest fans, isn't too concerned about Madrigal finding success once he finally makes the jump to the bigs.

"Watching him swing the bat yesterday, I'm amazed at his bat-to-ball skills. It's incredible," Renteria said Wednesday from Arizona. "He's actually filling out a little bit more. All these guys, we've seen them for the last four years, they're growing up. And even though Magic just joined us last year, you can see a difference in him, physically speaking.

"I think his skill set, in terms of his bat-to-ball skills, as he continues to develop, you may see a ball leave the ballpark here and there. But the fact he can put the bat on the ball and manage the barrel as well as he does, he'll be able to find holes. Continuing to improve upon and cleaning his swing path, staying through the ball a little bit more and still being able to use all parts of the field, his skill set will play. He'll find a way to get on base at a high rate through probably contact and eye recognition, pitch recognition."

Rick Hahn has said that he expects Madrigal to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign, so even if he doesn't make the 26-man roster out of spring training, keep your eyes peeled for a Madrigal sighting not too deep into the baseball calendar.

This is a matter of when, not if. So the walk-up music folks at Guaranteed Rate Field better start getting ready. Will it be "Magic Man" by Heart? Or "Strange Magic" by Electric Light Orchestra? "Do You Believe in Magic" by The Lovin' Spoonful is, of course, also acceptable.

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Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

White Sox fans suddenly have reason to stop focusing on the minor leagues.

Rick Hahn's front office has done an incredible amount of work this winter adding impact veterans to the team's young core, and because of it, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. The summer figures to be spent focusing on what Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are doing at the major league level rather than what the potential stars of the future are doing in the minors.

In other words, the future is here.

But it's worth noting that the White Sox still have some of the best prospects in the game. It's true that a few of the biggest names among that group won't be prospects for much longer. Luis Robert just got a high-priced contract extension that clears the way for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day. While Michael Kopech will be limited in some fashion as the White Sox manage his workload in his return from Tommy John surgery, it's hardly out of the question that he could be a part of the 26-man group that leaves Glendale at the end of March. And Nick Madrigal, Hahn has said, figures to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign after he reached the doorstep of the majors last year.

The point is, however, that the White Sox core is not done growing. Moncada, Giolito, Anderson and Jimenez all broke out in big ways in 2019, and the veterans added to that group could push the team into contention mode as soon as this season. But Robert, Kopech, Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are set to join that core, too, expanding it to one the White Sox hope will power championship contenders for years to come.

The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked Robert as his No. 1 prospect in baseball, picking the 22-year-old center fielder to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And that's no stretch after the way Robert lit the minor leagues on fire in 2019. Playing at three different levels, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 31 doubles, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He's a true five-tool threat who receives rave reviews that peg him as potentially the best of all the White Sox young talent. MLB Pipeline is in the middle of rolling out their rankings ahead of the 2020 season, and we'll learn where Robert ranks on the site's updated list next weekend during SoxFest. But most recently, Robert was the site's No. 3 prospect in the game.

Kopech still has prospect status despite the fact that he made his big league debut in August 2018. That Tommy John surgery limited his major league experience to this point to just four games, wiping out his 2019 season. Whether he'll be the same elite pitcher that was promised prior to his surgery is one of several important questions facing the 2020 White Sox, but it doesn't seem to be deterring the rankers. Bowden has Kopech as the No. 11 prospect in baseball, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Kopech is said to still be capable of unleashing the blazing fastball that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. The big question now is how often he'll be able to use it, with the White Sox planning to limit him in some capacity. We'll have to wait until spring to find out exactly what those limitations look like.

Madrigal might not spend a long time at Triple-A Charlotte, expected to be manning second base for the big league White Sox for the majority of the 2020 season. But like they did with Moncada, Jimenez and Robert before him, the White Sox have no plans to rush Madrigal to the majors. Bowden has him ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the game, and we'll find out soon where MLB Pipeline has him among second basemen. We already know they think the world of his glove — which was touted as Gold Glove caliber by the White Sox the night they drafted him in 2018 — naming him the second baseman on their all-defense team (he won a minor league Gold Glove for his work last season, too). MLB Pipeline also polled general managers, scouting directors and executives across all 30 teams, and Madrigal's name popped up often, voted to possess the third best hit tool, the third best glove and the highest baseball IQ among all of the game's prospects. The guy struck out just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate last season, so he's obviously doing something right.

Vaughn is receiving similarly rave reviews this winter. Bowden ranked him as the game's No. 35 prospect, and MLB Pipeline might end up putting the White Sox most recent first-round pick even higher, naming him the top first-base prospect in baseball. A slugger whose bat earned high praise when he came out of Cal last summer, Vaughn might not reach the South Side in 2020 like the rest of the guys discussed here. But he does figure to have a similar impact when he finally does. He played just 52 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem after joining the organization, hitting a combined five homers at those stops. He's still swinging the bat that launched 50 homers and drove in 163 runs over three seasons in college. That aforementioned MLB Pipeline executive poll? In it, Vaughn was picked as having the second best hit tool in the game. The White Sox just gave Abreu a three-year contract extension that will keep him on the South Side through at least the 2022 campaign, but the 37-year-old Encarnacion could be here as briefly as one year (his contract has an option for 2021), potentially opening up a spot for Vaughn should everything go right in the minors.

And this is without even mentioning guys like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could all wind up playing important roles on the pitching staff.

So while there is plenty of reason for your minor league interest to wane — because meaningful baseball is expected to be happening at the major league level in 2020 — know that the White Sox farm system (at least the tippy top of it) is still worth salivating over. These guys should be on the South Side soon, only adding fuel to the fire Hahn has built this winter.

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