CLEVELAND - The White Sox already are a much better team than they were at any time in 2013 and for much of 2014.
With a boatload of talented additions, the White Sox clearly have more than enough talent to win. They proved it on Wednesday afternoon when they did everything they could to lose but still found themselves in striking distance late in the game.
But if the White Sox want to leap from pretenders to contenders, they’ll have to be more proficient, something they only did sparingly in a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Whether it was starter John Danks not escaping the fifth inning, more sloppy defense or the offense failing in the clutch, including a critical ninth-inning sequence, the White Sox have myriad reasons why they aren’t headed for Detroit on a four-game winning streak.
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“Just execute,” centerfielder Adam Eaton said. “When we have an out, get it. When we have a play to be made, when a bunt needs to get down, it needs to get down. It’s when you don’t do that you’re not going to win games. That was the story today.”
The White Sox didn’t deserve to be as close as they were in the ninth inning against Cleveland closer Cody Allen. They committed an error, couldn’t convert on several other tough balls, and the offense had stranded eight runners.
But another staunch effort by the bullpen had the White Sox within two with the tying runs on after Allen walked Emilio Bonifacio to start the ninth inning and hit Micah Johnson.
With Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche looming, White Sox manager Robin Ventura elected for Eaton to bunt. But Eaton couldn’t get the bunt down and fouled off a 2-2 pitch for a strikeout.
Ventura stressed he kept the bunt sign on even with two strikes, believing Eaton would convert. But just like the rest of the game, the White Sox didn’t come through.
“You expect him to get that down,” Ventura said. “Even in the past, he’s done it with two strikes. He’s comfortable doing it. You just have to be able to get it down and get it over to the third baseman and move everybody up.
“But all the way around, I think Johnny actually pitched all right. We didn’t do him many favors behind him. A lot of miscues that lead to runs, and they end up biting you at the end. We had a lot of opportunities. We had the one inning we really put some pressure on, didn’t get anything out of it. …
“We have a lot of guys we just left on base.”
Cabrera and Abreu left the runners stranded just like Eaton, though Cabrera ripped a ball to the left side only for Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez to make a nice stop and almost turn a double play. Then Allen struck out Abreu for the final out with runners on the corners.
The White Sox also left a pair on board in the eighth inning and came up empty after loading the bases with one out in the fourth against Indians starter Trevor Bauer.
Despite all their issues, Eaton lamented his execution, noting he’s comfortable even with two strikes and understood Ventura’s strategy.
“I’m not swinging the bat well,” Eaton said. “Even though I feel pretty good in there and am putting decent swings on the ball, I see if we get runners on second and third they have to make a decision with Melky, throw to him because Jose is on deck. Melky is a professional hitter who can drive in two runs and tie the game and now we’re rolling. Say he gets a hit and we have runners on first and third and Jose is up, another run is going to get in. But it all starts with me and when I don’t get it done it’s … it is what it is.”
That’s about how Danks summed up his afternoon.
The left-hander gave up a pair of hard-hit balls in the fourth inning, consecutive doubles by Ryan Raburn and Lonnie Chisenhall, the latter driving in two runs.
Danks didn’t get much help from his defense.
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Geovany Soto’s throwing error in the third gave Cleveland the extra out it needed to go up by a run on Michael Bourn’s RBI groundout. Then with two outs in the fifth, Danks had Jason Kipnis picked off only for Abreu’s throw to get past Johnson into center field. Carlos Santana followed with a single to make it 4-0.
“We’ve got to play better to win ballgames,” Danks said. “It’s one game. Try to get one Friday.
“Felt good. Felt like I had good enough control with all the pitches and was able to change speeds, just found some holes and got beat on a couple of mistakes.
“That’s baseball and it happens. You get plenty of balls hit on the nose that’ll be caught so you try not to worry about it too much. But it’s certainly frustrating.”