This was supposed to be the start of a September surge, with the White Sox finally blending their ingredients into a formula that would vault them to another playoff berth.
Instead, a 7-5 loss Friday night at Kansas City brought back a recurrence of Jose Contreras' pitching problems, three consecutive errors that fueled the Royals' six-run fourth and a second consecutive inconsistent offensive performance.
Fortunately for the Sox, Minnesota is experiencing a worse offensive malaise and remained a half-game behind them in the American League wild-card race. The Twins, 8-1 losers to the New York Yankees, have scored only eight runs in five games.
The Sox's loss coupled with Detroit's victory dropped them to 5½ games behind the Tigers in the AL Central with 28 games remaining.
The Sox trailed 7-1 after five innings, only to score four times in the final two frames and leave the bases loaded when reliever Joe Nelson induced Joe Crede to fly to left to end the game. Crede's homer in the fifth was the only Sox run through the first seven innings.
"I think we played very bad defensively," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I'm not going to blame Jose."
Although Contreras was charged with only two earned runs, he was tagged for seven hits in five innings and has allowed five runs or more in each of his last four outingsstarting with a loss to the Royals on Aug. 16 in which he allowed 12 hits.
Since the All-Star break, Contreras is 2-7 with a 5.71 ERA.
The Sox need Contreras to turn around quickly as he did during the final 1½ months of last season because he's scheduled to pitch against AL postseason contenders Boston and Oakland in the next 2½ weeks.
The last-place Royals beat the Sox for the third time in the teams' last four games and are 4-3 against them at Kauffman Stadium. They put at least one runner on base in each of the five innings against Contreras.
Third baseman Mark Teahen continued his assault on the Sox with a two-out RBI single in the fourth and a two-run homer to cap the Royals' six-run fourth off Contreras.
Teahen, who snapped an 0-for-9 slump and was 4-for-26, has hit three home runs and a double in his last four games against the Sox and has hit five homers against the Sox this season.
Contreras was hardly the lone culprit as the fourth started with a walk to Emil Brown and a Ryan Shealy single.
Center fielder Rob Mackowiak's throw to third bounced away from Joe Crede, enabling Shealy to move to second on the miscue.
Paul Bako hit a grounder to shortstop, but Alex Cintron bobbled a backhand attempt as Brown scored. Andres Blanco laid down a sacrifice bunt that Crede heaved over first for his first error since July 29.
David DeJesus made the Sox pay the price with a two-run double and scored on Teahen's homer.
"If you don't get help, you're not going to look good," Guillen said in reference to Contreras' pitching line.
Aside from Crede's 428-foot homer in the fifth, the Sox didn't mount a semblance of a serious threat until Runelvys Hernandez came out after six innings.
The big deficit allowed Guillen to employ recently promoted pitchers Boone Logan and Charlie Haeger from Triple-A Charlotte, who combined to retire all nine batters they faced.
In the eighth, the first three Sox batters reached base safely, but Jim Thome struck out. Ambiorix Burgos relieved Jimmy Gobble, but Burgos hit Paul Konerko to force in a run, and A.J. Pierzynski and Ross Gload had RBI singles before Joel Peralta retired Cintron on a fly to end the inning and the Sox's best chance.
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