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Bats sputter in series finale vs. Royals

Bats sputter vs. Royals

CHICAGO -- Sunday contests have not been kind to the White Sox during the 2007 season, with the team holding a 1-4 record on the day of rest entering their series finale against the Royals.

But the Royals' 11-1 shellacking administered upon Ozzie Guillen's crew before 34,468 on Sunday was a performance not even their mothers could love.

Despite Javier Vazquez (2-2) becoming the 19th straight White Sox starter to work at least six innings, the pitching staff had a rare meltdown against the last place team in the AL Central. The relief trio of Boone Logan, Nick Masset and Andrew Sisco gave up seven runs on eight hits over three innings, striking out one and walking five.

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Kansas City's 15 hits marked a season high allowed by the White Sox (18-16) in their biggest deficit of the season. Every player in the Royals' starting lineup finished with at least one hit.

Judging by the solid results produced by the White Sox hurlers over the first 33 games, this poor showing definitely was an exception to a rule of excellence. The White Sox offense, on the other hand, continues to cause sleepless nights for the organization.

Jorge De La Rosa (4-3) and two relievers limited the White Sox to three hits, as the South Siders slipped to 4-5 against left-handed starters. It's a problem Guillen has addressed, re-addressed and then talked about yet again, trying to find the slump-busting attack with his daily mix-and-matching within the lineup.

As the Yankees come to town Tuesday for a three-game set, followed by three weekend games at Wrigley Field, the .220 average for the White Sox as a team, and their one hit in the last 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position, show the problem stands far from being solved. On Sunday evening, Guillen offered up a very direct solution.

"Without throwing anyone under the bus, it's time to get better at-bats," said Guillen of his apparently power-packed offense, which has scored more than four runs in just three of its last 12 games. "It's a shame, and it's a little embarrassing.

"You look at 100-something at-bats [for most starters], and we still struggle as a team. We never thought making this ballclub that we'd struggle that way. If we don't have good hitters, then it's a different way to think. But we have better hitters than what we show."

Unable to get a hit in the first three innings, the White Sox loaded the bases with one out in the fourth against De La Rosa. Joe Crede and Tadahito Iguchi were the next two hitters with a chance to blow the game open, or at least strike an early blow.

Instead, Crede drew a walk to force in a run, but Iguchi took a called third strike and Ryan Sweeney flew out to left to end the uprising. Sweeney finished hitless in three at-bats, ending his seven-game hitting streak, meaning the White Sox have yet to produce a batter who has hit in eight straight this season.

This lack of production, with just two baserunners in the final five innings, once again almost forced Vazquez and the bullpen to be perfect on the mound.

"In the back of your mind, you almost have to throw a shutout to win games," Guillen said. "We have pitched well, but we are not that good."

"It's up to us to pick them up," added Vazquez of supporting the offense. "Last year, they were hitting all year and they picked us up. We have a job to do, and we are doing a pretty good job right now."

Vazquez did a pretty good job on Sunday, allowing four runs on seven hits over six innings, striking out three and walking two. One bad pitch cost him in the fifth, as a 2-1 changeup to Mark Teahen was deposited into the right-field stands for a three-run home run and a 4-1 lead for Kansas City (12-26).

"Bad location, at least," said Vazquez, who threw 108 pitches in his six innings. "A change-up in, and he didn't miss it."

A five-run eighth put this game out of reach, as the Royals batted around via five hits and three walks. Masset issued all three of the free passes, as he yielded four runs in two-thirds of an inning.

"That's not me," said Masset, who threw only 10 of his 27 pitches for strikes and watched his ERA rise to 6.61. "I'm a strike thrower. I didn't have a good feel for the ball today."

All of these individual shortcomings on Sunday added up to bring the White Sox four-game winning streak to a close. Even with these hitting woes continuing, the White Sox have managed to stay above .500 and remain in contention in the highly competitive AL Central.

Guillen does not want to tempt fate and see how much longer the White Sox can hang on without consistent production. He made that point abundantly clear in Sunday's postgame.

"I've been handling this different ways, making different lineups, trying to be nice, trying to be positive, and doing everything we can to get those guys going," said Guillen, who has four starters hitting below .225 and has a team with just 14 runs scored over six games. "But it gets to the point where I ask myself, 'how long are we going to wait?'

"We win the last three series, and we feel like we are losing games. It's because our expectations, our hopes offensively, is better. In 2005, we did it with pitching and defense, but in 2005, it's a different ballclub.

"I'm not protecting myself," Guillen added. "I want better at-bats from everyone. We don't have good at-bats."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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