How José Abreu is leading Sox heading into playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
That was no surprise, as Abreu, the reigning American League MVP, is this team's leader, the guy who was so excited about the franchise's future during the rebuild that he vowed to sign himself to a new contract if the front office didn't.
Well, the fruits of that rebuilding project are here, the White Sox champions of the AL Central for the first time in 13 years and making the first back-to-back postseason appearances in franchise history. And it's again no surprise that Abreu is at the heart of all that success.
The team's No. 3 hitter, Abreu is in the thick of the race for baseball's RBI crown. Should he win it, it'd be his third straight season leading the Junior Circuit in that category. He's got an .896 OPS in the season's second half and continues to flash the clutch ability to drive in runs he did throughout his MVP campaign a year ago.
But as is so often the case with Abreu, the story of his value can't be told without a heaping helping of what takes place outside of the stat line.
He's continued to be a model of professionalism, his much-discussed work ethic on constant display. He continues to lead by example in the clubhouse. And he's been a pillar of resiliency, playing through the pain all year long and staying in the lineup throughout a physical onslaught that's included a scary collision on the first-base line, a rolled ankle on a game-winning slide into home, a bat being thrown off his leg by an umpire and 21 hit-by-pitches, including one fired off his helmet.
"He means a lot," White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez said, perhaps underselling things a bit. "All year, he's battled, and that is the kind of guy you want to see when you're on a team, on a championship team.
"He's our leader. He's always there. He feels sick, he's there. He got hit, he's there."
And so with the postseason nearly upon them — and the White Sox intent on not repeating their 2020 fate, when they stumbled down the stretch and in a brief playoff appearance — it's no surprise that the players are turning to Abreu to lead them.
Just as unsurprising, the uber-consistent Abreu, who has reached this point as one of the game's preeminent hitters by sticking to a routine of hard work and focusing on the little things, has a message as the White Sox hit October that isn't much different from what it's been for the last six months.
Heck, it's not much different from what it's been for the last six years.
"We want to keep competing," Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo, "just keep competing and see what happens. For us, it doesn't matter where we start the playoffs. We want to play hard, and we want to do what we've doing throughout the whole season."
It doesn't matter where the White Sox start the playoffs, Abreu said in response to a question about gaining home-field advantage in the AL Division Series, which begins a week from Thursday. But surely it matters where they end, right?
Abreu wasn't biting on that one, either.
Asked what this White Sox team is capable of in October, the first baseman responded: "Playing hard every day. ... If we do that, we will have a chance.
"The only prediction I can make is we won't quit and we won't rest. We are going to do our best."
And just like Abreu has guided the team's young stars through the last few years of the team's rebuild and into contention mode, into winning time, his effect has taken root when it comes to their approach to the postseason, as well.
Even Jiménez, who has made a habit of grandiose statements — such as declaring Luis Robert "the next Mike Trout," reciprocating Michael Kopech's similarly eye-popping compliment by calling him the Nolan Ryan of this generation and stating his own goal to be an MVP one day — showed what he's learned from his mentor, the guy he's referred to as a father figure.
So, Eloy, what's this team capable of in the playoffs?
"We're going to find out," he said. "When you talk too much, that's not good. We just need to go out and show."
That's the Abreu method. And the White Sox are following his lead.
It was not surprising Monday to see them follow him into battle. Now it's time to find out if they can follow him all the way to the World Series championship they've craved since the spring.
"At that moment when I slid into second and the benches cleared, it was a really nice moment to see the support of my teammates, everybody on the field trying to protect me. That meant a lot," Abreu said. "It wasn’t the best moment or the best action, but that's something that made me feel good and showed everybody how unified we are.
"Now, more than ever, we need to grasp that family feeling and carry that to the playoffs, because that's what we need to have a good and deep run."