CHICAGO -- Cautious optimism surrounded the White Sox as they entered the weekend just 31/2 games out of first place. But getting swept in three games at home against the Royals has tempered enthusiasm, at least temporarily.
The red-hot Royals have won seven straight and continue to make themselves at home at U.S. Cellular Field, where they have won 10 of 11 and swept two of their last three series. A 6-3 verdict Sunday featured a familiar formula for success: five early runs and stout starting pitching.
The Sox, who have dropped four in a row, had their chances after rapping out 12 hits. But they repeatedly failed with runners in scoring position and stranded 13.
"The good news is we had opportunities," manager Robin Ventura said. "We had guys grinding away, especially the way it started, a couple of homers for them that put some crooked numbers up there. You just grind your way through it and get some opportunities.
"We just didn't come through enough with those chances. We hit the ball hard. Gordon (Beckham) hit a couple pretty hard that, if the wind's probably not blowing in, it might be different."
James Shields (8-3) worked himself out of enough jams to emerge with the victory. He allowed three runs on 10 hits over six innings.
Sox starter Andre Rienzo (4-4) continues to struggle. He has lost his last four starts with a 9.00 ERA in that span.
The Royals jumped on Rienzo in the first when Omar Infante singled and Eric Hosmer blasted a two-run homer to straightaway center.
The Sox answered in the bottom half when leadoff man Adam Eaton (3-for-4) hit a hard shot that got past first baseman Hosmer and rattled into the right-field corner for a stand-up triple.
Eaton appeared to be picked off third before plate umpire Paul Emmel called a balk on Shields, making it 2-1.
Salvador Perez crushed a three-run homer in the third to give the Royals a 5-1 advantage.
"The two homers killed me today. The two homers, five runs," Rienzo said. "I made mistakes, and the guys enjoyed that. But after that I thought I threw well. After the two homers ... but it hurt the team."
The Royals added a run in the fourth on an RBI single by Jarrod Dyson. The Sox rallied in the bottom of the fourth after Adam Dunn and Alexei Ramirez led off with singles. Alejandro De Aza drove them in with a one-out double to right-center to make it 6-3.
The Sox had the tying run at the plate in the eighth with two outs, but Beckham grounded out to end the threat.
"We are scuffling a little bit, but it's part of it. It's frustrating," said Beckham, who has hit safely in seven of his last nine games against the Royals. "I thought we played a pretty good game today in terms of trying to grind out the at-bats and try to do some good things. It just didn't go our way."
The Sox are four games below .500 for the first time this season. They host the Giants in a two-game series beginning Tuesday night.
"We are just going to show up on Tuesday and get right back at it," Beckham said. "We have an off-day (Monday). It's the best thing for us right now. I don't think it's a lack of effort. I don't think it's a lack of wanting it. Sometimes baseball goes in this up-and-down cycle.
"We obviously felt good at the beginning of this homestand and have struggled since. That will bounce back too. I'm not worried about the team. We've just got to get a little bit better in terms of pitching and a little bit better in terms of hitting. If we can put those things together, we can really make a run."
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