One rule has stood firm for opponents during the successful run of the Kansas City Royals — get your offense early.
The White Sox received another copy of that memo on Friday night as they lost their first meeting of 2016 against the reigning World Series champions at U.S. Cellular Field by a 4-1 count.
The White Sox didn’t convert on early chances against Kansas City starter Dillon Gee and his bullpen picked up the slack with four scoreless innings. Meanwhile, the Royals scored four late runs against Jose Quintana to send the White Sox to their seventh loss in nine games.
“You want to keep those horses in the bullpen,” catcher Alex Avila. “You don’t want them coming out in the game. Usually when they’re coming out, you’re on the wrong side.”
Without question the White Sox offense has improved from last season. They entered Friday averaging 1/2 a run more per game than they did in 2015, which has them in the middle of the pack in the majors. Part of their improvement stems from hitting .267 with runners in scoring position, which ranked 11th among 30 teams in the majors entering play.
But the White Sox offense is still susceptible to ruts and they’re currently in a funk. For the fourth time in six games, the White Sox scored three or fewer runs.
It wasn’t for a lack of chances.
With Jose Abreu hitting second in hopes it would mix things up, the White Sox had several opportunities to build upon a 1-0 lead against Gee in the early innings.
They failed in each one.
Austin Jackson put them ahead with a sac fly in the second inning. But Gee retired Tyler Saladino to strand a pair. Gee struck out Brett Lawrie with two aboard to end the third inning and Adam Eaton grounded into a fielder’s choice with two on to end the fourth.
Gee retired the side in order in the fifth inning (he also did in the first) and handed it over to his bullpen — but you knew that was coming.
The White Sox even had a shot at Joakim Soria in the seventh inning as Eaton — who was ejected after the game ended for arguing balls and strikes — singled and Abreu walked. But Alcides Escobar snagged a Todd Frazier liner headed for left and doubled Eaton off second to end the inning.
Though White Sox manager Robin Ventura credited Gee for being sneaky and effectively using his cutter, he put the onus on an offense that went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine.
“We had some opportunities and we didn't do that same thing that they of being able to put it in play, knock guys in,” Ventura said. “We had enough guys on base, we just didn't execute enough.
“We've just got to do a better job executing.”
The Royals did their job in limited chances against Quintana.
The left-hander faced the minimum through five innings and only allowed one hit. Quintana looked just as effective as Thursday’s starter Chris Sale as he needed only 43 pitches to complete four innings.
But Omar Infante jumpstarted the Royals, who trailed 1-0, in the sixth inning with a one-out double and they didn’t stop until they had a three-run lead. Former Sox farmhand Paulo Orlando continued to torment his old team with a game-tying double off Quintana and Lorenzo Cain doubled in another to put Kansas City ahead 2-1. Kendrys Morales also singled in a run in the sixth.
An inning later, Orlando singled in another run to make it 4-1. He also singled in the ninth and finished 3-for-4. Orlando is now 18-for-51 (.353) against the White Sox with six RBIs and 63-for-247 (.255) with 28 RBIs against everyone else.
The combination of the White Sox struggles and the Royals’ ability in the clutch led to the inevitable as Ned Yost rolled out Luke Hochevar, Soria, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.
Royals relievers retired 11 of 15 batters to beat the White Sox for the 13th time in their last 20 meetings.
“To beat a competitive team like Kansas City, you’ve got to get those two-out knocks,” Eaton said. “It just seemed like missed opportunities. It’s been kind of the story of this homestand thus far, and then going on the road there. We’ve got to turn it around, some way, shape or form. Q threw a heck of a game. Four runs to those guys, as competitive as he was. If we get on them early, it may be a different story.”
Instead, it was the same story the Royals have told for three seasons now.