Jose Abreu has one more game to play in August.
Everyone in baseball outside the White Sox organization is celebrating.
This August, Abreu stood as tall as the Iowa corn he lined a home run into at the Field of Dreams game on Aug. 12. It was one of nine homers Abreu hit this month to go with a .324/.378/.639 hitting line, 1.017 OPS and 24 RBI. The numbers are very close to his best month of May (.333/.422/.631 with a 1.053 OPS), and predictable. In his eight seasons, all with the White Sox, Abreu is batting .334/.390/.601 in August, easily his best month.
The good followup news for Sox fans? September is Abreu’s second-best month.
The old news? At 34, Abreu is maintaining the remarkable consistency he has demonstrated since he signed as a free agent out of Cuba in October, 2013.
“It’s a testament to the work that he puts in, it’s a testament to the stuff that he takes seriously,” hitting coach Frank Menechino said. “He’s a good hitter and if you ask Jose Abreu, he’s had a bad year. You talk to Jose Abreu and ask him about some stuff, he’d be like, ‘You know what? This isn’t the best year of my life.’ But he finds a way and that just goes to show you how hard he works, how seriously he takes it and the pride he takes in what he does.”
If there is anything Abreu takes pride in, it’s driving in runs. The reigning American League MVP is batting .263/.344/.496 with an .840 OPS, 27 home runs and an AL-high 101 RBI. He is attempting to join Detroit’s Cecil Fielder (1990-92) as the only players in history to lead the American League in RBI three straight seasons.
“I mean, driving in runs is not easy,” Menechino said. “Some people think, ‘Oh, you’ve got a man on second and third and one out or two outs, it’a a gimme. No outs or one out, it’s a gimme.’ It’s not a gimme, you’ve got to still execute your plan and sometimes you’re putting the pitcher’s pitch in play. It’s a testament to his work ethic and his pride.”
With 46 walks, Abreu is only five away from his career high set in 2014, his rookie season, perhaps a reflection of the Sox lineup missing Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal for large chunks of the season. With those big bats missing, pitching around Abreu made more sense than it might now with the full lineup nearly at full strength.
“Abreu has benefited from it,” assistant hitting coach Howie Clark said. “I feel like he’s been more selective at the plate, not feeling like he has to drive in the runs. It’s nice knowing you have that behind you and with a good, deep lineup, if guys are willing to recognize they’re getting pitched around they’re not going to expand. Stay stubborn and let the next guy. That’s the sign of a really good team.”
Pitchers work Abreu inside with hard stuff, and he has been hit 16 times, a career high. He refuses to wear padding on his left arm and responds to almost each hit by pitch with a hustling sprint to first base. It’s one small way his leadership is demonstrated.
“It goes beyond what the numbers are,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Jose’s consistency and competitiveness, the way he prepares, how he literally can attack pitches at all parts of the strike zone, those are represented in his RBI totals.
“[The RBI] are hard earned, man. A lot of work, a lot of days where I’m sure he’s sore, he goes to the post and concentrates when other guys are distracted. An RBI producer, especially when you’re in the middle of the lineup and everybody’s trying to stop you, is a really difficult job. He cannot get enough credit.”