KANSAS CITY -- A.J. Pierzynski is one of the few White Sox players whowas around the last time the team won a series at Kauffman Stadium.Chris Sale sealed the teams first series victory in Kansas City sinceMay 29-31, 2009 as he scattered 10 hits over eight innings in a 2-1 win overthe Royals on Sunday.Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, John Danks, GavinFloyd and Matt Thornton are the only players left from the White Sox previousseries win here, a three-game sweep that improved the clubs record to 24-25.We were talking about that,Pierzynski said. We were like, Man, that seems like a long time. But whenyou thought about it, and I saw the ninth inning videos of them walking us off,it seemed right. It was a big win after the All-Star break and last nightsgame went, it was a big win today. It was a good win, a good team-win. It was abattle to the end, and they didnt go away.Addison Reed can attest. He took over for Sale in theninth inning and quickly recorded the first two outs. Salvador Perez thensingled and pinch-runner Jason Bourgeois stole second to move into scoringposition. Infielder Chris Getz, who was in a White Sox uniform during the May2009 sweep, then hit a slow grounder to shortstop and was nearly safe beforeRamirez threw him out.Reed bounced back after heallowed a run in the 12 th inning of Fridays marathon 9-8 victory to recordhis 14th save in 16 tries.They were all tight games,Reed said. A lot of back and forth, ties and everything. We just never gave upand did what we know how to do and came out with two wins.
Jose Abreu has made quite a turnaround from being a guy who was admittedly lost to bashing the ball like Abreu of old.
From April 19th on, Abreu has hit at another level, reminiscent of the performances he put on throughout an eye-opening 2014 campaign in which he was the unanimous American League rookie of the year winner. Over that stretch, Abreu has slashed at an absurd .347/.404/.677 clip with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.
Earlier this week, Abreu said the run is the product of trusting his tireless preparation.
"I struggled in the first few weeks of the season but I kept working," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Now I'm at this point where I feel very good and confident with my offense and things are going well for me. That's part of what you work for and if you work hard, you know the results will be there at the end of the day."
Two numbers that have improved significantly during Abreu's five-week tear are his average exit velocity and strikeout rate.
Abreu entered Wednesday 39th in the the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph this season, according to Baseball Savant.
But Abreu wasn't hitting the ball nearly as hard early this season, which was littered with weak contact. Abreu stumbled out of the gate with a .157 average, one extra-base hit and only five RBIs in his first 54 plate appearances. Through the first two weeks, Abreu's average exit velocity was 89.0 mph on 31 batted-ball events, which was slightly down from last season's 89.6 mph average and significantly down from 2015, when he averaged 90.9 mph.
Since then, however, Abreu has seen a significant increase in hard contact. Over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu is averaging 92.6 mph, a total that would qualify for 15th in the majors this season. Included in that span is 35 balls hit 100 mph or more.
But Abreu's success isn't just related to how hard he has hit the ball. He's also made much better contact this season and is striking out less than ever. Abreu struck out 14 times in his first 54 plate appearances (25.9 percent). But since then, he has whiffed only 17 times in 136 plate appearances, good for a 12.5 percent strikeout rate.
His season K-rate of 16.3 percent, according to Fangraphs.com, is down from a career mark of 19.6 percent.
"You have started to see him heat up a little," manager Rick Renteria said earlier this week. "He's given us solid at-bats. He's in a good place right now."
Actually, it's a great place and one Abreu hasn't done with consistency since 2015. He once again looks like the hitting machine he was for most of his first two seasons and the final two months of 2016.
Abreu is on pace to hit 36 home runs this season, which would match his 2014 total. His current wRC+ of 138 is his highest since he finished 2014 at 167.
Last season, Abreu didn't hit his 10th home run until June 18. He hit his 11th homer on June 23 and then didn't hit another until August 4. That stretch raised myriad questions both inside the organization and externally about whether or not Abreu would return to prominence as a hitter. Perhaps inspired by the August arrival of his son, Dariel, Abreu finished 2016 with a flurry, hitting .340/.402/.572 with 14 home runs in his final 241 plate appearances.
General manager Rick Hahn said last September that the stretch was important for White Sox evaluators to see.
"It certainly makes you more confident as you see him over the last six weeks, projecting out that he's going to be that same player that he was for the first two years of his career," Hahn said. "Earlier, when he was scuffling, you looked at some of the things he was doing from his approach or some of the mechanical issues he might have been having and you felt confident he was going to be able to get back. But in all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks."
The White Sox offense has benefitted from Abreu's leap back into prominence. The team has averaged 4.53 runs per game this season and is 9th in the American League with 204 runs scored and 17th overall in the majors. But the increase in offense still hasn't helped the White Sox improve in the standings. While Abreu is glad to be on the roll he is, he'd prefer if his team is along for the ride.
"We're are passing through a tough moment, a rough stretch," Abreu said. "For me as I've always said the team is first. I want to thank God for how I've performed through this rough stretch. But it's not something makes me feel happy because we didn't win as many games as we wanted to win. It's tough."
Jose Quintana has not started his 2017 campaign as many White Sox fans had hoped or expected.
Through nine games the 2016 All Star has posted just two wins and watched his ERA climb to 3.92 after Wednesday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This past offseason, Quintana was frequently mentioned as a possible trade piece for the White Sox who if moved might have brought in other key pieces for the retooling South Siders, much like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton did.
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Have Quintana’s early season struggles impacted his trade value?
White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti weighed in while appearing on Wednesday’s edition of SportsTalk Live.
“Somebody's trade value isn’t contingent necessarily on what he’s doing right now,” Benetti said. “I mean general managers are smart enough to know Jose Quintana is worth X over the course of time and a lot of what trade value has to do with, is what other teams need. So as injuries continue to pile up to other pitchers, if we’re talking about the value of a starting pitcher, the market has as much to do with that as his performance in one specific game.”
Listen to what else Benetti had to say in the video above.