White Sox

Can the Tigers hang in the AL Central?

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Can the Tigers hang in the AL Central?

When baseball re-starts for the unofficial beginning of the second half Friday, Detroit will sit 3 12 games behind the White Sox, riding a five-game winning streak. Given their roster and pre-season hype, it was always foolish to count Detroit out, even when they sat as many as six games out of first place as they did a month ago.

But the Tigers have a major challenge ahead of them. Yes, they've won five in a row and are two games over .500 for the first time since April 25, but they accomplished that streak by beating Minnesota twice and sweeping Kansas City.

We'll know much more about where Detroit stands in about a month. Here's who the Tigers draw in the next five weeks: @Baltimore (3), vs. Los Angeles (4), vs. Chicago (3), @Cleveland (3), @Toronto (3), @Boston (3), vs. Cleveland (3), vs. New York (4), @Texas (3). That's 29 consecutive games against teams that are currently at or above .500.

They get a three-game break at Minnesota, then face Baltimore, Toronto and Los Angeles on a nine-game homestand. After that, they draw Kansas City away and face the White Sox, Indians, Angels, White Sox, Indians and Athletics -- all teams that are currently at or above .500 -- to take them into late September.

By the time Detroit gets to coast in their final 13 games against Minnesota (6) and Kansas City (7), that brutal stretch could do them in. But if they can at least tread water until the final few weeks of the season -- at which point they may actually get Victor Martinez back -- they'll be a threat, especially because the White Sox draw the Indians (6), Angels (3) and Rays (4) in the final two weeks.

But the Tigers, in their current form, are flawed. Miguel Cabrera has been great, but not as good as his elite-level 2010 and 2011 seasons. The same goes for Prince Fielder. That pair are still incredibly tough in the middle of the Tigers lineup, but not moreso than Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.

Austin Jackson was a major All-Star snub, entering the break hitting .332.408.545 and leading the Tigers with 4 WAR. While he may regress a bit in the second half based off his .417 BABIP, he's a tremendous asset at the top of Detroit's lineup.

Quintin Berry has been outstanding, too, coming up from the minors and hitting .299.388.417 with 12 steals in 42 games. Whether he can keep that level of production up remains to be seen -- he hit .270.368.321 in Triple-A before his promotion and has a .416 BABIP in the majors.

Getting Andy Dirks back in the lineup may help, whenever that may be. He hit .328.379.515 before going on the disabled list on May 31 with Achillies tendinitis in his right foot.

But Alex Avila has taken a step back, hitting .242.336.384 a year after making the All-Star Game. Jhonny Peralta has come back to earth, too, and the Tigers have a major hole at second base.

Defensively, the Tigers are brutal, hitting the break with the second-worst UZR and fourth-worst - ratings in baseball. That certainly hasn't helped the causes of Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, all of whom have ERAs above 4.

While FIP -- generally a pretty good predictor of future ERA -- likes those four starters, Detroit's defense could very well continue to hold back their run prevention efforts. Justin Verlander is still elite and very well could win the Cy Young again, but beyond him, there are plenty of question marks.

Jose Valverde's regression hasn't helped matters, either. While he only has three blown saves, he's walking nearly five batters per nine innings and hasn't come close to his unblemished 2011 performance. The rest of Detroit's bullpen, though, has been pretty solid.

There's plenty of room for improvement on this Tigers team, from individual player performance to an opening to add another starting pitcher. Getting Matt Garza, for example, would be huge. But simply getting improved performances out of Fister, Scherzer, Porcello andor Smyly would go a long way.

Most likely, Detroit's going to continue to hit the ball well. Whether they can pitch -- or field -- well enough to keep them in the race is the big question.

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”