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Jose Abreu's table set for home run marks

The White Sox's magic number in the second half is 21.

That's how many home runs Jose Abreu needs to break Albert Belle's 1998 franchise record and snap Mark McGwire's 1987 all-time rookie mark, both 49, back when "Big Mac" still could fit into a pair of skinny jeans.

When I asked Abreu about the rookie record during All-Star festivities, of course he said he wasn't thinking about it.

"Not at all," he said through a translator. "I don't focus on numbers, specifically that number. I don't know it."

That's nice.

But with the Sox six games below .500 and attendance down, the team needs to market Abreu's record assault.

Abreu has 29 homers in 82 games, averaging about one every 2.8 games. The Sox have 66 games remaining, meaning he needs to average one every 3.1 games to wind up with 50.

"He ain't gonna break that record," former Sox slugger Frank Thomas said. "Trust me."

"In Big Hurt We Trust" is usually my motto, but not this time. Abreu is already on pace to challenge the mark, and as he learns pitchers' tendencies more, he should be even better prepared in the second half.

Thomas is an Abreu fan, calling him "must-watch-TV." But he chided me for projecting second half numbers for Abreu based on his first half.

"The second half, everything stops," he said. "You (media) guys have to understand, you're allowed to do what you want to do before the All-Star break. I've had 13 home runs, and I've had 30 at the break.

"That second half, when teams are in contention, and they know that one person can hurt you on a daily basis, they're going to start walking him and doing everything else (but pitch to him)."

Makes sense. But for a second opinion, I asked former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen if Abreu's home run production will decline as the season goes on.

"That's what we say every day," Guillen replied. "And every day he keeps putting up more home runs. I think he has a chance to do it. This guy, he doesn't try to do too much to the ball. He reminds me a little bit of (Miguel) Cabrera — tries to hit the ball in the gap, and he never changes his swing."

The degree of difficulty increases for sluggers down the stretch. The Orioles' Chris Davis hit 37 at the All-Star break last year, but managed only 16 in the second half, including six in the final month.

"It happens every year," Thomas said. "Last year Davis was in a playoff run, and he hit more than 50 home runs, but you saw the difference in the pitching the second half. (Pitchers) are not as aggressive as they are (the first half).

"If the first and second halves were the same, they would start challenging the big man in the second half more. Abreu has proven it. He's a flat-out great hitter."

Abreu also leads the American League in homers at the break and could become the third player in Sox history to win an American League home run title, joining Bill Melton (33 in 1971) and Dick Allen (37 in 1972 and 32 in 1974).

"Remember, in the summer, (U.S.) Cellular Field shrinks a lot, and he's going to have a chance to hit a lot more," Guillen said. "You see his home runs go right-center a lot.

"We'll see. Hopefully he stays healthy. That's more important. But I hope he does it. That would be nice for Chicago."

psullivan@tribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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