Go Figure: Chicago White Sox's Abreu is racking up historic MVP credentials
Talk is heating up for White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu as one of this year's leading American League Most Valuable Player candidates.
With that in mind, here's a conversation piece with a twist of trivia thrown in: through Friday's action, by leading the entire Major Leagues in base hits and runs batted in, Abreu was poised to accomplish something genuinely historic.
Only three times has an American League player led the AL in both of those categories in the same season: Lou Gehrig in 1931, Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and Jim Rice in 1978.
That lineup is heady Hall of Famer company for Abreu, who also led the AL in RBIs last year and was fourth in AL MVP voting as a rookie in 2014.
Yastrzemski and Rice, both Red Sox outfielders, were selected MVPs for their performances, while Gehrig came in second to pitcher Lefty Grove, who had a dominant 31-4 record. And of the three sluggers who pulled off the base hits/ribbies combo, Rice was the only one who led all of the Majors in both categories.
With players like Minnesota's Nelson Cruz and Cleveland's Shane Bieber getting some MVP chatter, it seems only natural that the volume gets turned up on Abreu's qualifications.
With 68 hits, he was one ahead of Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner for the MLB lead, and six hits ahead of teammate Tim Anderson for the AL top spot. And with 51 RBIs, he was three in front of the Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman and four ahead in the AL, with the Yankees' Luke Voit second.
HR race, revised: Seven weeks ago, in one of my "too early to forecast intrepid predictions" for this shortened 2020 campaign, I predicted "at least five players will slug 20 home runs, and at least one will slam 25."
Heading into the penultimate weekend, the one player who had reached 20 home runs was the only one with a realistic shot at 25: the aforementioned Luke Voit. He had five home runs in a recent seven-day span.
Meantime, eight players have at least 15 home runs -- within striking distance of getting to 20 by the regular season's end. My revised outlook is that two will join Voit at the plateau -- with Abreu, at 17 home runs, the most likely.
When five Yankees hit home runs in the fourth inning of their game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night, it matched a Major League record, set seven times before.
Q1. The last time a team recorded five home runs in one inning was July 2017, when the Washington Nationals did it. Of the players who homered during that inning, how many remain on their 2020 roster?
Playoff flashback: On Thursday, hours ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, the White Sox became the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot. It has been a dozen years since the franchise appeared in the postseason.
Q2. In that 2008 Division Series, the White Sox won Game 3 by a 5-3 margin to stave off a sweep by the Rays. Can you name the winning pitcher, who also won the one-game AL Central tiebreaker against the Minnesota Twins that lifted the Sox into the playoffs?
(Bobby Jenks, Gavin Floyd, John Danks)
Reverse jinx: What's up with White Sox right fielder Nomar Mazara's power outage?
He averaged 20 home runs his first four seasons for Texas -- hitting exactly 20 on three occasions -- but through 108 at bats this season, he had zero home runs and an anemic OPS of .568 (nearly 200 points below his career average coming into 2020).
Only two seasons ago, Mazara hit 10 home runs in May -- including seven in the month's first nine days. So maybe he's due for a binge of the long ball -- sort of like Scott Podsednik's two home runs in the 2005 postseason after the leadoff hitter went homerless for the Sox during the regular season.
Q3. With one out in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, Podsednik slammed a walk-off home run. Who was the Astros pitcher?
(Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Andy Pettitte).
1. Zero; 2. John Danks; 3. Brad Lidge
• Matt Baron supplements his baseball brainpower with Retrosheet.org for research.