Chris Sale knows the Royals are the best team in the American League, and he knows you’re not supposed to serve up home runs to the best team in the American League.
“This is not a good team to leave fastballs over the plate to and also not a good team to let the ball travel over the fence,” Sale said. “They take advantage of every opportunity you give them, and that’s what happens.”
Yes, that’s exactly what happened Sunday, as Sale allowed a trio of runs on a pair of homers against the reigning AL champs, the critical blows in a 4-1 White Sox loss at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sale wasn’t his usually dominant self Sunday, and it showed from the very beginning. He allowed three of the first four batters he faced to collect singles, and one of them turned into a run.
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Later on, the left-handed ace served up a pitch that Lorenzo Cain turned into his second solo homer in as many days. The following inning, Paulo Orlando cranked a two-run shot into the seats to put the Royals ahead by four.
Meanwhile, the Royals showed what’s made them one of baseball’s best teams. They got great pitching, as Danny Duffy blanked the White Sox over eight innings. Tyler Saladino’s solo homer to lead off the ninth ended Duffy’s shutout bid, but eight-plus innings of one-run ball allowing just six hits is still stellar. To boot, the Royals’ defense was sensational, with Alcides Escobar — who last week started the All-Star Game at shortstop — making what seemed like one dazzling play per inning.
Pitching and defense. And a couple long balls off one of baseball’s best pitchers. That’s what keeps you atop the standings. And that’s what kept the White Sox out of the win column three out of four times in this weekend series.
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“They limit everything,” Robin Ventura said. “They have a really fast outfield. They limit things in the outfield. It's spread out pretty good. Cain covers a lot of ground, he's done it the last few days. Escobar just seemed to be everywhere today. Even when it's tipping off somebody's glove he's there to pick it up and throw it, and the play at the end of the game. We just couldn't get anything going.”
“Yeah, pitching and defense and doing the little things,” Sale said. “That’s what wins you ballgames and gets you on rolls. We’re having a little bit of bad luck on our side right now. Just try to shake that and just get on a streak.”
Sale’s "off" day has to be put in perspective, of course. Sure, he surrendered a season-high 11 hits. But an ace pitcher should be able to give up only four runs — just the fourth time that’s happened in Sale's 18 starts this season — and not completely sink his team. But the White Sox are the lowest-scoring team in the AL, and that means those four runs were just too many to overcome.
A struggling offense couldn’t muster a thing against Duffy outside of Saladino’s late homer. The White Sox collected just six hits and squandered the chances they did get. Three times in the first three innings they had a runner at second, but no runs came of it. And the most glaring missed opportunity came in the sixth, when after the first two hitters reached, a sacrifice bunt and a pair of strikeouts followed, stranding a pair of runners in scoring position.
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The White Sox dropped three games during this four-game weekend set and are now 3-7 on the season against the Royals. There’ll be no reprieve, either, following Monday’s off day, as the team with the best record in the National League, the Cardinals, visits the South Side for two games.
It could all add up to a real rough way to start the second half after the first half ended with the White Sox winners of nine of 12.
But you know what started that good stretch? A two-game sweep of the Cardinals.
“It’s just frustrating all the way around,” Sale said. “You come out, and you’re playing hard. We’re grinding it out. We’re playing as hard as you can, and that’s all you can really ask. We got some bad luck along the way, too. We’re squaring some balls up and doing some things. Balls hitting off guys’ gloves and going to the other guy. It’s just sometimes you have to shake the bad luck before you get on a roll.”