Blackhawks

White Sox leading the league in more ways than one

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White Sox leading the league in more ways than one

By Paul LaTour
CSNChicago.com

Look up and down the White Sox lineup and youll find somebody who has made a recent contribution with his bat. Thats how well they have been hitting as of late.

There are the obvious ones, of course. Paul Konerko leads the American League with a .381 batting average. Adam Dunn already has 15 home runs, four more than all of last season. A.J. Pierzynski is hitting .472 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs, 10 RBI and eight runs scored in his last nine games.

Beyond those three, Chicago is getting remarkable production from Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza. Viciedo has raised his average from .196 to .252 over the past 11 games, which includes hitting six home runs and 13 RBI while batting .390.

De Aza, who is hitting .326 with 17 runs scored in May, contributed his first career grand slam in Thursdays 11-8 victory over Minnesota.

Overall, the Sox bats have been on a torrid pace the past 11 games. In addition to 24 home runs and scoring more than six runs per game, Chicago hitters are batting .289 collectively.

Eventually it was going to get there, manager Robin Ventura said prior to Saturdays game against Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field. Its nice. It compliments the pitching and the defense. Once everybody gets going, you feel confident going through that lineup that when you get a couple guys on they are going to knock them in.

The home run explosion has been impressive. The Sox have hit at least one home run in each of their last 11 games, their longest stretch since June 1-12 last season.

You cant go up there trying to hit home runs, but you can try to put good swings on the ball, and if the ball goes out it goes out, Pierzynski said after Friday nights 9-3 victory in the series opener against Cleveland in which the Sox homered three times.

Pierzynski, whose average has gone from .257 to .309 in his last nine games, has already matched his home run total from last season. He now has eight home runs, including one Friday, and 31 RBI.

Hes got more power than you initially look at and see, Ventura said. Hes a big guy. Hes been getting in a good position to hit, and if he hits it, its going to go. I dont know if theres a reason for it, but he looks good at the plate. Hes been consistent, too.

For some perspective on how good the offense has been during this 11-game stretch, Chicago ranks first among the league leaders in four categories, and is top five in two others.

The Sox lead in home runs, slugging percentage, runs per game and runs scored. They are third in average and fifth in extra-base hits.

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

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AP

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: