The White Sox received good news regarding the injury status of slugger Jose Abreu on Monday afternoon, with Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago reporting that an MRI on the first baseman's left ankle revealed no structural damage and inflammation only.
As a result, Chicago now hopes Abreu can return to the club's lineup when he is eligible to come off the DL in two weeks, although whether the White Sox can survive without Abreu propping up their offense is a bigger concern.
Abreu has belted 15 home runs in his first 44 big league games, and before landing on the DL, he was hitting .260/.312/.595 with a 143 OPS+. After signing a six-year, $68 million contract following his defection from Cuba, Abreu has been the best hitter and main run producer in a surprisingly strong White Sox lineup. The rookie first baseman has the most home runs in baseball, the second-most RBI behind Giancarlo Stanton and his .595 slugging percentage is the fourth-highest among qualified batters.
Abreu's hugely productive April was a big reason why the White Sox offense surprised so many in the season's first month, and one questions if the team can stay afloat without so essential a piece, even for just a couple weeks. After all, Chicago's offense is starting to fall back down to earth, and losing its best hitter won't help the team any in the AL Central.
The White Sox scored the second-most runs among MLB clubs in April, yet the harsher realities of May have replaced early-season optimism on the South Side. Abreu and the rest of Chicago's lineup have seen their team-wide .333 OBP and .431 slugging percentage in April drop to .307 and .375, respectively, in the month of May. The Cubs and Mets have both averaged more runs per game than the White Sox this month, a worrisome trend for a club whose pitching staff has the worst ERA and FIP in the majors.
Abreu's production has begun to drop at the plate as well, although this was to be expected following a record-setting April. As happens with any MLB newcomer, opposing pitchers have begun finding weaknesses in Abreu's approach at the plate, and the Cuban native's combination of a high strikeout rate (26.5 percent) and subpar walk rate (5.3 percent) isn't generally conducive to superior on-base ability. Abreu has made up for such deficiencies with his astounding power thus far, but unless he can maintain a 60-homer pace during the next four months, he will have to figure out a way to cut down on his strikeouts or earn a few more free passes.
Unfortunately, the White Sox also have a number of other hitters who look unlikely to sustain their performances at the plate. Tyler Flowers leads all big league players in BABIP despite striking out more and walking less than Adam Dunn, while Dayan Viciedo and Conor Gillaspie both have higher BABIPs than their career norms. U.S. Cellular Field is a great hitting environment and will help prop up the club's offensive numbers, but many of the White Sox hitters will be hard-pressed to maintain their current level of performance over a full season.
Dunn has been another positive for Chicago in the early going, walking and hitting for enough power to offset his high strikeout rate, though all those whiffs carry with them the constant possibility that he becomes a liability in the lineup.
With the Tigers threatening to run away with the division, Chicago's prospects, even with Abreu missing only a couple weeks, are fading by the day.
Sure, there is reason for some optimism. With the additions of Abreu, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia last July, the White Sox have quickly upgraded the talent on their major league roster, something that showed in their solid April. But this White Sox offense isn't truly the potent attack it appeared to be a few weeks ago.
The White Sox are still miles behind the Tigers, while the Royals and Twins have a better collection of young talent (especially when factoring in Minnesota's farm system). Progress is being made on the South Side of Chicago, but it won't be swift. The White Sox aren't going anywhere without upgrading their rotation, which is something Abreu, no matter how many home runs he hits, can't help with.