CHICAGO--Every team is a veritable contender in the American League Central at this juncture of the season.
Only four games separated the first- and last-place teams at the start of Friday night's contests.
So the Chicago White Sox are encouraged to generate the same amount of vigor while facing the second-place Kansas City Royals this weekend as they did when they took two out of three from the first-place Detroit Tigers earlier this week.
The Sox, however, have lost eight of their last nine home games against the Royals after Friday night's 7-2 setback before a crowd of 22,773 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Asked before the game if he feared his team might be flat after facing the Tigers this week, manager Robin Ventura shrugged off the notion.
"That's not going to be the reason we win or lose a game," he said. "Guys are focused. They come in ready to go. When you play (162) games you can put (previous) series behind you."
Nonetheless, the Royals scored early and often against Sox starter Jose Quintana, taking a 5-0 lead in the first inning as nine batters came to the plate. The Royals collected six hits, including five in a row to start the game.
Sox bats had fallen silent Thursday night when Tigers ace Max Scherzer blanked them 4-0 on just three hits.
"You're going to run into a pitcher like Max and it's going to look like (your team is flat)," Ventura said. "Even for them, they really got one run off Chris (Sale). Tough pitchers make an offense look pretty normal. You put that behind you and start looking at what (the next) night holds and go from there. I'm not worried about the attitude."
The Sox ran into another nemesis in Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie on Friday night. Guthrie went 52/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits. He walked four and fanned nine. The Sox finished with seven hits and 12 strikeouts.
"It's a tough division," Ventura said of the parity within the division. "When you start playing each other, you don't see those records of teams beating a team 17 times out of 18. (Within the division) you tend to beat (each other) up and close the gap and bunch each other up."
Jose Abreu drove in his 51st run of the season with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. The Cuban rookie continues to capture the attention of opposing players and managers around the league.
"They're just impressed with his professionalism," Ventura said. "He's not a flamboyant guy, but he comes to work. They come out, even for (batting practice), and watch him.
"Everybody's interested because they've heard about him but they haven't seen him. The first thing they notice is how he goes about his work. He's very meticulous and professional about his work and people appreciate that."
The Sox are still hopeful of taking two out of three in this series to remain in the thick of the competition.
"There are a bunch of good teams and a couple of us are younger teams, but it seems like everyone is competing and giving the effort throughout every game," catcher Tyler Flowers said.
"When you do that and have some talented guys, you are going to see teams continue to have success. This is a pretty tight-knit division, typically. So you are used to that going into it. What you hope for is to win enough games over the last couple of months ... that's what you hope for, to make a push and get into the playoffs."
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