KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Welcome to Kansas City, where all the impossibly bad things that could happen to the White Sox seem to materialize.
The White Sox bullpen coughed up a lead for a third consecutive game on Sunday afternoon and a miserable losing streak reached six games with a 5-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals in front of 36,624 at Kauffman Stadium.
Chris Sale was in line for his 10th win in 11 tries until the Royals rallied for three eighth-inning runs against Nate Jones and Matt Albers.
Instead of achieving what would have been a defining sweep of Kansas City, the White Sox were swept and head to New York with no answers on how to rediscover the winning ways that led them to victories in 23 of their first 33 games. The bullpen allowed 14 runs during the three-game sweep.
Just as they had on the previous two days, Kansas City’s bats woke up late Sunday.
After scoring six times in their final three at-bats on Friday and an improbable seven more in a ninth-inning rally on Saturday, they immediately put pressure on Jones, who allowed a run Friday.
Trailing by two, Lorenzo Cain brought the crowd to life with an opposite-field solo homer on a 3-2 pitch from Jones, a booming shot to make it 4-3. Eric Hosmer then scooted a 2-2 slider down the left-field line for a double. Jones walked Kendrys Morales and Paulo Orlando singled to load the bases. Brett Eibner walked to force in the tying run and Cheslor Cuthbert’s infield single off Albers put the Royals ahead.
Another stunning failure by the bullpen snuffed out a stopper-esque start by Chris Sale, who had the White Sox in position to end their streak.
Sale’s defense did its part to help out early.
What could have been a disastrous first inning ended with a spectacular double play by Austin Jackson. Jackson — who later exited the game with an undisclosed injury — raced back to make an over-the-head grab to rob Morales and then fired a strike to Tyler Saladino, whose perfect relay throw to first doubled off Hosmer. Earlier in the inning, Saladino ranged far to his left and fired to first to retire Alcides Escobar.
Melky Cabrera also turned in a gem in the second inning, throwing out Eibner as he tried to stretch a single into a double. Finally, Adam Eaton made his glove’s presence felt with a sliding grab to rob Whit Merrifield to end the third.
Those contributions helped Sale navigate some difficult waters against a team that has challenged him the past few seasons. Despite a 2.84 career ERA, Sale entered the start with a 7-9 mark against the Royals. He certainly looked as if he were headed for a 10th defeat in the first inning when Merrifield singled and the Royals capitalized on a dropped pop up by Jose Abreu as he slammed into the dugout railing. With new life, Cain ripped the next Sale pitch to deep center for an RBI double and he scored on Hosmer’s RBI single to make it 2-0.
The team’s most consistent force all season, Sale pitched out of big jams in the fourth and seventh innings, the latter coming with him at the 115-pitch mark.
Whereas some of his rotation mates have struggled, the lineup has experienced slumbers and the bullpen has had issues for the past three weeks, Sale has continued to deliver consistency in all but one start.
Sale allowed two earned runs and seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings. He threw strikes on 80 of 118 pitches.
Though the White Sox offense didn’t get a ton of early results, they made Edinson Volquez work.
The Sox pushed through for a second-inning run on three straight singles by Abreu, Brett Lawrie and Dioner Navarro.
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Avisail Garcia sparked a go-ahead rally with a one-out walk. Saladino doubled to put two in scoring position. Eaton tied it with an RBI groundout and Jackson’s two-out single put the White Sox up by a run. Jackson’s seventh-inning, bases-loaded sac fly gave Sale and the White Sox breathing room as he made it 4-2. Had it not been for a spectacular diving grab by Orlando, Jackson may have had extra bases.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Overshadowed in a weekend’s worth of bungled games is the fact that Miguel Gonzalez has strengthened the back end of the White Sox rotation.
Signed to a minor-league deal on April 3, Gonzalez has delivered the kind of consistency the White Sox have hoped for from the fifth spot in the rotation. He only has one win to show for it because of two blown saves, but Gonzalez has a 3.57 ERA in his last four starts with an average of 5 2/3 innings per turn. While the White Sox continue to explore outside options, including San Diego’s James Shields, Gonzalez has to have them feeling more secure about the guys behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
“He’s come in and given us a chance,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Every time he pitches, it seems like we have a chance to win that game. (Friday) it started out a little rough and after that he did a very good job of getting us to the seventh and doing his job. He looks in control as well as mannerisms and his personality, it's his stuff. He’s not walking people, he’s not getting himself in trouble, making guys swing the bat.”
Gonzalez has made five starts for the White Sox and has a 4.50 ERA. He made one start April 25 and went back to Triple-A Charlotte. But after returning, Gonzalez has since remained in the rotation each of the last four turns.
Whereas Gonzalez walked five batters in a May 15 contest, he has since walked none in 12 1/3 innings and struck out 13. Gonzalez has been happy to have consistent work and to be able to make adjustments in between starts with pitching coach Don Cooper.
“I’m getting to feel a little better with all my pitches, command and changing speeds,” Gonzalez said. “We’re doing the best we can to minimize the damage and that’s what it’s all about.”
Unsure what they’d receive from Mat Latos or John Danks, the White Sox saw a fit in Gonzalez, who was waived by the Baltimore Orioles in late March because his velocity hadn’t returned and if he were kept they owed him $5 million. Rick Hahn said that Gonzalez’s velocity began to return late in spring and they liked the potential of a pitcher who went 30-21 with a 3.45 ERA from 2012-14 before he struggled last season.
Essentially, the White Sox didn’t see Gonzalez as a scrap heap project.
“We knew that even when it happened to him at the end of spring training,” Ventura said. “That was our first conversation of guys that you’ve either played against or you see and think something’s there and can help you. He was definitely that guy.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They may be reeling from two awful losses, but Alex Avila expects he won’t see any let up from his White Sox teammates.
He’d better not.
Whereas they should be in position to close out a sweep of the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, the White Sox are trying to avoid one after consecutive stunning losses, including allowing seven runs in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday in an 8-7 loss.
Asked how they have to respond, the veteran catcher said his White Sox teammates have little choice — play hard or don’t bother showing up.
“The way you stop it is you come back tomorrow and make something happen,” Avila said. “They’re not going to feel bad for us. So you can’t feel sorry for yourself. It’s an extremely tough loss for sure. That’s a game we should have won. There’s been a few games we should have won. The way we’ve been playing have given a lot of people doubt.
“But guys in here, if they have any shred of doubt in their mind of what they can do, even though we’re struggling, don’t even come. No one’s going to feel sorry for you in this game. Even if you’re struggling, battle your ass off. There’s no room for feeling sorry for yourself and doubting your ability and your team’s ability. We’re going through a tough two-week stretch. The good thing is it’s right now at the end of May here. Try to finish these last few games in May strong and take it into June and see if we can make a better month out of it.”
The White Sox appeared to respond well to Friday’s game, one in which they blew a four-run lead, until the bullpen melted down for a second straight day. Even though none of their big run producers came through, the White Sox pulled ahead 7-1 on the strength of home runs by Tyler Saladino and Avisail Garcia.
But then the impossible happened and the Royals rallied to win a game in which their win probability was 0.1 percent after David Robertson struck out Paulo Orlando to start the ninth inning. Robertson only recorded one more out as he allowed six runs and Tommy Kahnle allowed another in an 8-7 loss.
“I’m not surprised or satisfied the way our team has responded to tough losses,” Avila said. “I expect it. No matter what the situation was the game before, I expect each guy in here to be prepared the very next day. If they’re not, then there’s an issue. Guys have been coming to play every single day and doing their homework and getting prepared for each game. If they weren’t, it’d be an issue. But guys have been doing that and we’re kind of going through one of those spells where instead of finding ways to win, we’re finding ways to lose games. Most teams will go through it or have gone through it. I know the first month we were playing great and the Royals weren’t playing well, the Tigers weren’t playing well and Cleveland wasn’t playing well. It was like, ‘Well, we’re going to run away with it,’ and flipped the script. Things can change pretty quickly over the course of a week or two weeks, even a month. That’s my point on why you have to come and make sure you’re prepared — that doubt in your mind about the day before is gone and you have to be ready no matter what because nobody is going to feel sorry for you.”