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Jose Abreu is key to early success, but division record will tell the tale

HOW THEY SCORED

RAY FIFTH Loney grounded out. Myers flied out. DeJesus singled. Escobar safe at second on Viciedo’s error, DeJesus scored. One run. Rays 1, Sox 0.

SOX SIXTH Beckham safe at first on Zobrist’s error. Eaton infield single, Beckham to second. Semien infield single, Beckham to third, Eaton to second. On Price’s error, Beckham scored, Eaton to third. On Myers’s error, Eaton scored. Abreu homered, Semien scored. Viciedo doubled. Konerko struck out. Ramirez infield single. On Escobar’s error, Viciedo scored. Five runs. Sox 5, Rays 1.

SOX SEVENTH Beckham walked. Beckham stole second. Eaton singled, Beckham to third. Semien doubled, Beckham scored, Eaton to third. Lueke pitching. Abreu singled, Eaton scored, Semien scored. Viciedo walked, Abreu to second. Danks pinch-running for Viciedo. Konerko fouled out. Ramirez singled, Abreu scored.
Four runs. Sox 9, Rays 1.

RAYS EIGHTH Danks in as right fielder. Molina struck out. Zobrist singled. Webb pitching. Jennings walked, Zobrist to second. Joyce flied out, Zobrist to third. Longoria singled, Zobrist scored.
One run. Sox 9, Rays 2.

Updated: April 27, 2014 10:50PM



The tried-and-true route to postseason play is through the division.

The numbers prove it: Dominate your division opponents, and you’ll chart a path to the playoffs.

‘‘When you win in your division, it’s automatic,’’ Sox manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘You’re going up and down in your division [immediately]. When you’re playing outside your division and you lose, there’s a possibility everyone else loses. So the effects are immediate when you’re in your division.’’

But the chance to make a statement is important, and after beating the Tampa Bay Rays 9-2 on Sunday, the Sox can win the series against the AL East power with a victory Monday.

But playing well against the Central was a hallmark of the 2005 World Series winner and the 2008 team, the most recent to make the postseason.

The 2005 Sox went 52-22 against the Central en route to a 99-63 record. The 2008 Sox went 44-29 against the division (89-74 overall), including the one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins.

Since then, the Sox have had only one winning season against the Central, going 37-35 in 2012 (85-77 overall).

‘‘You see what Cleveland did to us last season and the effect that has,’’ Ventura said of the American League wild-card Indians’ 17-2 mark against the Sox. ‘‘If you play someone well in your division, you have a better chance to be at the top of your division.’’

The Sox have started this season doing just that.

They are 8-6 against the Central so far, with two division games left in April when Detroit arrives for a two-game series this week.

It’s a modest start, but only the Minnesota Twins can match it.

‘‘I would love to have the same conversation in late August, but it’s at least better than it was,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘We look at last year as a barometer that’s not always pretty.’’

The Sox were 26-50 against the division last season.

‘We’re competing,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘We’re in games. We feel we have a chance to come back and win, and that’s big for us.’’

Not everything has gone as scripted.

A full season of slugger Avisail Garcia was to be a key upgrade for the offense, but he is lost for the year with a shoulder injury.

All-Star pitcher Chris Sale is on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a muscle strain in his left arm.

And the bullpen may become a nagging concern.

But there are bright spots like catcher Tyler Flowers (.366), leadoff man Adam Eaton (.282) and Dayan Viciedo (.367 with a nine game hitting streak).

And then there is Jose Abreu.

The rookie is carving up the Sox record books, putting up another four-RBI game Sunday and notching his 10th homer to set another rookie record for the month.

His 31 RBI in April have set another franchise rookie record and are the most in any month since Frank Thomas had 31 in August, 2003.

‘‘I didn’t have these expectations, especially with the cold weather,’’ he said through an interpreter. ‘‘Once again, I’ve got to thank God.

‘‘I go to the field to play baseball and help the team. I really don’t go looking for records, but they’re definitely welcome.’’

His power is obvious, but his ability to make in-game adjustments is just as valuable an asset.

‘‘He’s up there with anybody in the league in being able to do that,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘He just continues to impress.’’

Email: tginnetti@suntimes.com

Twitter: @toniginnetti



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