Asked what the Chicago White Sox must do next year to avoid the fate they just suffered, José Abreu gave a very José Abreu answer.
"What we need to do in the offseason in order to get better next year? Just keep working," the White Sox team leader and MVP-winning first baseman said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I truly believe that we have to keep working, and sooner rather than later, if you work hard — or harder now — the results are going to be there, the results we all want as an organization and as White Sox family members.
"A World Series title is going to be there, but we need to keep working and keep working hard."
That's going to be a tough one for White Sox fans to wrap their heads around after watching Abreu and the White Sox lose the American League Division Series to a thoroughly better Houston Astros team that's playing in its fifth consecutive AL Championship Series.
The White Sox' rotation, the best in the AL during the regular season, was knocked around. The White Sox' lineup, stocked with talented and powerful bats, did little in three of the four games and mustered just six extra-base hits in the series. The White Sox lost three lopsided games, none more disappointing than the 10-1 defeat they were handed in the decisive Game 4, coming two days after reliever Ryan Tepera made his "sketchy stuff" comments in the wake of his team's lone win.
Even the typically upbeat Abreu was well aware of the reality.
"At the end (of the season), we faced a pretty good team with a lot of talent, and they just were better than us," he said. "They took better at-bats. They were able to hit some clutch hits in very important situations of the games. They were better than us."
But while plenty of White Sox fans are stewing in disappointment following a brief playoff stay — the team, entering the season with its own batch of World Series expectations, won as many postseason games as it did last year — Abreu was able to quickly move on and take a wider view of the 2021 campaign, which featured the franchise's first division title in 13 years and plenty of memorable moments.
"I don’t think there is any room to say this was a bad season," Abreu said. "I think it was a very good season. I’m just glad and happy with all the effort and all the work everybody put in to have the kind of season we had."
Any sort of regular-season success is often masked if the postseason contains little of the same. The White Sox' quick exit leads to obvious questions about what the team can change to prevent such an outcome a year from now. But the uber-consistent Abreu — who despite getting beat up physically all season long managed 30 home runs and 117 RBIs — unsurprisingly stuck by his typical mantra of working hard.
That's great, but it's hardly specific. And while it's true that postseason success is impossible without it, plenty of players and teams work hard every season, only to fail their World Series goal, make a disappointing playoff exit or miss the postseason altogether. Hard work is a tremendously admirable quality. Alone, it is not a recipe for the kind of playoff run the White Sox and their fans crave.
What, specifically, did Abreu see in 2021 that leads him to believe the White Sox are moving in the right direction toward that goal?
"Experience," he said of the biggest gain for the team this season. "Every year, you gain more experience, with every game you can experience, with every postseason you can experience. As a team, as a young team, as we are, the experience is a key. It's very important because in a postseason run, you need experience to manage all the situations that are going to arise during a postseason game.
"It's something that is really valuable. Last two years, we haven't gotten the results that we were looking for. But we've been gaining that experience that is going to put us in a way better position for next year, hopefully, to get deeper into the postseason.
"I know that this team has a lot of talent, a lot of young talent. That combination, that talent with experience we've been gaining the last two years during the postseason, it's going to be a key factor for us moving forward."
That's obviously an intangible thing to track, but Abreu pointed to an example in the team that just walloped the White Sox in the ALDS.
"I think that one of the big reasons why we lost against the Astros is experience, the lack of experience," he said. "We were facing a team with a lot of experience in the postseason. They knew what they needed to do in order to win games, and they beat us that way.
"I think that's something that you can’t replace. You need to have that experience to match up with other teams and to beat other teams during the postseason. Again, it all comes back to experience."
Even with his status as the team's leader and one of the two players described as its heart and soul, no one was expecting Abreu to come out with a laundry list of offseason needs he hopes Rick Hahn's front office addresses this winter. And indeed, there are only so many areas to address. Many of these players, the ones who just came up empty against the Astros in disappointing fashion, will be the ones the White Sox lean on to accomplish much more next year. And that's where Abreu's point on experience could prove a good one.
But while fans spend the next several months intently watching what Hahn & Co. do, listening to what the team's brain trust thinks can be tweaked to make the big difference, Abreu's recipe for flipping the postseason script in 2022 is unsurprising and simple:
"We just need to start next season," he said. "That's all that we need right now. I can't say what the front office needs to do, because that's not my job.
"Just start playing again."