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‘Everyone is shocked, the White Sox are in first place’

Matt Davidson (24) and Jose Abreu (79) celebrate after the White Sox defeated the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, May. 4, 2017. (AP)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — MLB Network was on the visitors’ clubhouse TV at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday morning, and none of the players sitting nearby seemed interested.

That is, until the question, ‘‘Who is the biggest surprise in the AL Central?’’ perked up a few interested viewers.

Heads turned when the Sox, and their bullpen in particular, were mentioned first.

Derek Holland yelled something to the effect of “That’s right!”

Holland then went out and held the Royals to one earned run over 6⅔ innings to improve to 3-2 with a 2.02 ERA, and Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson each hit home runs in the first two innings to provide an early cushion, and the Sox (15-12) breezed to an 8-3 victory to give them a split of the four-game series.

On a day when Nate Jones became the fifth Sox pitcher to go on the disabled list, Holland and the bullpen had their way with the struggling Royals lineup. Anthony Swarzak (0.00 ERA) has retired 30 of the last 31 batters he’s faced, and Tommy Kahnle lowered his ERA to 0.90 with a scoreless ninth.

That caliber of pitching, along with Avisail Garcia’s hot bat — he drove in two runs with a single to right to raise his team-leading RBI total to 23 — have concocted enough mojo to have the Sox playing winning baseball. While the threat of proven veterans such as Holland, Miguel Gonzalez, Todd Frazier, closer David Robertson and perhaps Jose Quintana getting traded in the coming months hangs over them, the Sox are trying to ignore it, believing they can win now.

Not that anyone else is convinced, including a general manager who remains committed to his rebuilding plan for sustained success.

“It’s great we’ve started the way we have,’’ Holland said. “That’s more for us, our enjoyment. We already believe we can do this. We know we’re good. We have to get everyone else on the outside to believe this. Everyone is shocked, the White Sox are in first place.’’

At 15-12, they are tied with the Indians. On May 4, it might be more appealing than substantial, but it means enough. Just not enough for general manager Rick Hahn to abruptly veer away from his rebuilding plan.

“Our focus isn’t going to change in terms of putting ourselves in the best long-term position for this club,’’ Hahn said Thursday.

“The team is playing really well right now and . . . as enthusiastic as we are about the wins and losses and the results on the field, the process and the environment that [manager] Ricky [Renteria] and his coaches have created, that’s the kind of thing we want to have in place for a number of years.

“And they’ve been extremely effective in putting that into place now, and as a result it’s leading to perhaps more wins than some people might have projected for this club, at least those outside of the coaching staff and the players in the clubhouse.’’

Holland, wearing the WWE belt given to the player of the game — usually decided by Melky Cabrera — struck out seven and got swings and misses on 13 of his 91 pitches.

The Sox aren’t bad, he insisted.

“I try to tell people we have a lot of power in this lineup,’’ Holland said. “We have a good team here with the chemistry and everything. It’s turning out to be what we want it to be.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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