Chicago White Sox: The 10 Best Moments of the First Half

James Kries@@JKriesContributor IJuly 9, 2012

Chicago White Sox: The 10 Best Moments of the First Half

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    The Chicago White Sox, who have surprised fans and experts with their stellar first-half performance, join a group of other upstart teams who find themselves on top of their divisions.

    Aside from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, the rest of the division leaders at the midway point in the season are the White Sox, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

    The White Sox were expected to be mediocre, drudging along in the weak AL Central, trying to play out their string of games while waiting for some bloated player contracts to expire.

    What fans have been treated to has been nothing short of miraculous. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy have come back with huge seasons following awful 2011 campaigns.

    The team received a jolt with the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis in a trade with the Boston Red Sox on June 24. Youkilis has fit in quickly, most recently driving in 10 runs during the White Sox's final six-game homestand before the All-Star break.

    There have been several key contributions from White Sox players which have helped the team stay on top of the AL Central.

    There have also been several exciting moments which have made this one of the more memorable White Sox seasons in recent memory.

    Here are the 10 best White Sox moments from the first half of the season, and please feel free to share your favorite White Sox moments of the first half in the comments section.

Adam Dunn Hits a Home Run on Opening Day

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    Adam Dunn's 2011 struggles have been well documented. All the proof needed of his historic ineptitude during his debut season in the American League is the following slash line: .159/.292/.277.

    It would be reasonable to expect Dunn to improve on his terrible 2011 season, but it seemed like the game had passed him by, an unfortunate turn of events for the White Sox, who invested $56 million over four years to sign Dunn.

    Having just completed the first half of the 2012 season, Dunn finds himself in the All-Star Game, his second career trip to the midsummer classic.

    Dunn is back to his old self, smacking 25 first-half home runs, while walking a league-leading 68 times.

    It all started on Opening Day, when Dunn took a Colby Lewis pitch out of the yard. Dunn went upper deck and looked like the slugger of his National League days when he hit 354 home runs in 10 seasons.

    While the White Sox went on to lose to the Rangers 3-2 that game, it was perhaps a sign that Dunn was turning his career around and bouncing back from his dreadful 2011 season.

    Dunn has already dwarfed his statistics from last year through the first 85 games of this season. It all began with his moon shot back in April.

Chris Sale Dominates Cleveland in His First Career Start

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    Among the many big questions for the White Sox coming into this season was how left-handed pitcher Chris Sale would perform as a starter.

    Sale had only worked out of the bullpen during his first two seasons. With the offseason departure of Mark Buehrle, it was only logical for the White Sox to move the talented Sale into the rotation.

    Sale has not disappointed this season, earning a 10-2 record with an ERA of 2.19. He was also selected to the All-Star game.

    Sale would start for the White Sox against the Cleveland Indians in the fourth game of the season. It was the first of five games against two division rivals, the Indians and the Detroit Tigers.The White Sox won four of the five games, sparked by Sale's lights-out performance against the Indians.

    Sale pitched 6.2 innings, allowing only six base-runners, and striking out five batters. It would be the first of many fine pitching performances for Sale during the first half of the season. The White Sox now look like they have their pitching ace for many years to come in Chris Sale.

Gavin Floyd Ends Team's Five-Game Skid

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    The White Sox started out hot in April, jumping to a 10-6 record, good for first place in the AL Central. The team then hit some hard times, dropping five games in a row, including the first three games of a four-game set at home against the Boston Red Sox.

    The White Sox donned their Sunday reds for the series finale, pitting Gavin Floyd against Boston's Josh Beckett.

    Floyd got the best of Beckett and the Red Sox, leading the White Sox to a 4-1 victory to end their losing streak.

    Floyd tamed the potent Boston lineup, striking out nine hitters, while walking only one batter. Floyd allowed only three hits in 6.2 innings, passing the ball off to Addison Reed and Matt Thornton, who both pitched scoreless ball to secure the victory.

    While Floyd has seen his ups and downs this season, his April start against the Red Sox was vital to the White Sox, and got the team back on track early in the season.

Pitching Committee Keeps Win Streak Alive

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    The White Sox caught fire again in late May, winning nine straight games, and overtaking first place in the division.

    They wouldn't have arrived there without the efforts of five pitchers on May 30th, their eighth win of the streak, when the White Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3.

    In the fourth inning of the game, White Sox starter Jose Quintana was ejected from the game after he threw behind the Rays' Ben Zobrist. White Sox manager Robin Ventura followed suit, arguing with home plate umpire Mark Wegner.

    Quintana had only yielded one hit before his ejection, and his early departure but pressure on the White Sox bullpen to hold onto the White Sox's 3-1 lead.

    Aside from rookie Nate Jones giving up a two-run homer to Carlos Pena in the sixth inning, the bullpen did not give up another run, helping the White Sox win 4-3, extending the team's winning streak.

    While Quintana's ejection seemed suspect, putting the White Sox's winning streak in the balance, Jones, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Addison Reed helped to increase the White Sox's AL Central lead to 1.5 games.

Jake Peavy Shuts Down Cubs for Series Sweep

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    Another White Sox player with something to prove this season is Jake Peavy. Since joining the White Sox in 2009, Peavy has struggled with injuries and poor performances.

    While earning a huge salary, the once-great Peavy was looking for redemption in 2012. Peavy has pitched himself into the All-Star Game, and on May 20, he had one of his best performances of the season, pitching shutout ball for 6.1 innings en route to a 6-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

    The win completed a three-game sweep for the White Sox against their crosstown rivals, and Peavy improved to 5-1 on the season.

    Peavy struck out seven, and allowed only five base-runners, lowering his ERA to 2.39 on the season.

    It was yet another quality start for Peavy, who has 13 on the season. He has gone deeper into ball games this season, and has been one of many bright spots for the White Sox in the first half of 2012.

Chris Sale Strikes out 15 Tampa Bay Rays

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    The White Sox found themselves in a Memorial Day pitching duel, featuring two of the game's most promising left-handed starters.

    Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, one of the most-hyped pitching prospects in recent memory, squared off against the White Sox's left-handed starter, Chris Sale.

    The game did not disappoint. Moore fanned 10 White Sox hitters while keeping the Rays in the game, yielding only a two-run home run to Adam Dunn in the sixth inning.

    His counterpart, Chris Sale, dominated Rays hitters, giving up only three hits and one run in 7.1 innings. Sale struck out 15 Rays hitters on his way to his sixth win of the young season.

    Sale would help keep the White Sox in first place for most of the first half, winning 10 games and earning an All-Star Game invitation. Sale's best and most memorable performance was his 15-strikeout masterpiece during one of the season's most exciting games.

Philip Humber Is Perfect Against the Seattle Mariners

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    Philip Humber made history on April 21, throwing only the 20th regular season perfect game in history. Humber was perfect against the light-hitting Seattle Mariners.

    Humber, who earned his first win of the season with his perfect game, has struggled all season, allowing over six runs a game and winding up on the disabled list through the All-Star break.

    Humber almost lost his perfect game on the last out of the game when he struck out pinch-hitter Brendan Ryan. Ryan had worked the count to 3-2 and appeared to hold up on a check swing on the last pitch, but was ruled out on a dropped-third strike.

    Humber had wicked stuff all day long, striking out nine Mariners, mostly on the strength of his fall-off-the-table curveball.

    It was Humber's first career complete game, and the third White Sox perfect game in team history.

Kevin Youkilis Comes Up Big During His First White Sox Homestand

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    Chicago may have a new fan favorite in town with the arrival of former Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis.

    Youkilis was acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox on June 24th. The White Sox filled their season-long void at third base, getting a solid player with plenty of postseason experience.

    Youkilis had struggled in Boston before the trade. He managed to hit only four homers with 14 runs batted in with the Red Sox before coming to the White Sox. He has already driven in 14 runs since joining the team in late June.

    Youkilis continued his struggles after he joined the White Sox on June 25 in Minnesota. It wasn't until the final homestand before the All-Star break that the White Sox faithful knew just what they had in Kevin Youkilis.

    Youkilis put on a hitting clinic, hitting three homers and driving in 10 runs over the six home games. Chants of "Youk" echoed throughout U.S. Cellular Field all week as Youkilis came up with several big hits during the team's five wins.

    Youkilis' ability to grind out at-bats was on full display during the team's 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on July 4th. Falling behind 0-2 to Rangers reliever Mike Adams in the 10th inning, Youkilis worked the count, fouling off several pitches before lining a single to left field, driving in Alejandro De Aza to seal the White Sox victory.

    Aside from his hitting heroics since arriving in Chicago, Youkilis has turned in several fielding gems, and is quickly becoming a catalyst for the team.

A Tank Rolls Through the Bronx

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    White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo has not disappointed this season, coming up with 14 home runs over the first half of his first season as a White Sox starter.

    No home run was bigger than his ninth-inning, three-run blast off of New York Yankees reliever David Robertson.

    Viciedo gave the White Sox the lead, and closer Addison Reed hung on for the save, giving the White Sox a 4-3 win in the series opener against the Yankees.

    The game-winner by Viciedo stunned the Yankees and the Yankee Stadium crowd, and even elicited a "Hell yes!" out of White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson.

    The win was the first of seven White Sox victories to close out the last ten games before the All-Star break.

The White Sox Steamroll the Rangers

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    Going into the final week of the first half of the season, the White Sox held on to a slim lead in the AL Central.

    The White Sox were confident after an exciting series split in New York, including a thrilling come-from-behind victory, and a 14-7 walloping of the Yankees.

    Next up was the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers. The Rangers came to Chicago leading the AL West, and were already 20 games over .500 with a run differential of plus-100.

    Sluggers Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Ian Kinsler would be one of the toughest tests yet for the upstart White Sox.

    Texas manager Ron Washington would be managing this year's All-Star Game and had seven All-Stars on his Rangers roster. The White Sox made him rethink some of his AL All-Star Game roster decisions, especially his snub of White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who has enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2012.

    The White Sox pummeled the Rangers 19-2 in the first game of the series. Kevin Youkilis, Adam Dunn, and Alex Rios all homered in the first two innings of the blowout victory.

    Pierzynski capped the triumph with a three-run blast to right field, giving the White Sox a 16-0 lead in the fifth inning.

    Newcomer Kevin Youkilis won over the Chicago crowd with a game-winning single in the tenth inning of the second game.

    The White Sox held off Texas 2-1 in the series finale on the strength of Jose Quintana's pitching gem, and Youkilis' go-ahead home run in the sixth inning.

    While the impressive sweep doesn't automatically vault the White Sox into the playoffs, it does send a message to the rest of the league that the White Sox are legitimate contenders and are not an early- season fluke.