James Shields’ best start in a White Sox uniform wasn’t enough to keep the streak alive.
Despite Shields’ 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball, the White Sox offense sputtered to a 2-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves in front of 29,156 on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field. Coupled with Chris Sale’s poor start Friday that resulted in a defeat, the White Sox lost their first series since June 17-19 against the Cleveland Indians, ending a stretch of five consecutive series victories.
Shields only allowed a pair of solo home runs to Jeff Francouer and Jace Peterson in the second and third innings, respectively. The 34-year-old right-hander allowed six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in what was his longest start since Sept. 5, 2014, when he was with the Kansas City Royals.
Over 25 1/3 innings over his last four starts, Shields has a 2.84 ERA. That’s more in line with the 3.06 ERA he had in 10 starts before racking up a gargantuan 24.62 ERA in four starts from May 31 to June 18.
“This is the best he’s been since he’s been here,” manager Robin Ventura said.
The White Sox offense couldn’t solve Braves starter and Minooka, Ill., native Mike Foltynewicz, who struck out 10 over seven shutout innings. Only once did the White Sox put two men on base against the 24-year-old right-hander.
Still, the White Sox (45-43) are over .500 at the All-Star break for the first time since 2012. After winning 23 of their first 33 games, then losing 26 of their next 36, the White Sox feel things have normalized a bit as they get some time off before the second half begins Friday in California against the Los Angeles Angels.
“It was good, then it was bad, then it started getting good again,” manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s that simple — we were playing good baseball, then we didn’t play good baseball, and now we’re playing better baseball. I think, for these guys, they put that out of their mind and now you’re just, you’re continuing to go every day. Every day’s a new day. I think once you’ve lived through it you can see that the sun comes up the next day and you get back after it.”
The White Sox still have a grave need for better production from their designated hitters — Justin Morneau’s debut, which should come after the All-Star break, should help — and they’ll have to fill at least one turn in the rotation lost to Carlos Rodon’s sprained wrist.
But even in the face of Sunday’s loss to the lowly Braves — who still own the worst record in baseball — the White Sox will head into the All-Star break feeling relatively confident about where they’re sitting in the American League playoff race.
“We had a good stretch there, and we feel really good going into the break,” Shields said. “Our team has been playing really well as of late, the last three, four weeks or so, and hopefully we’ll hit our stride after the break.”