Contreras sharp in losing cause

Contreras sharp in losing cause

CHICAGO -- The startling numbers coming after the White Sox 3-0 loss to the Cubs before 39,194 at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday should be presented with a warning label.

You know, the kind of cautionary words stating that these particular statistics might not be suitable for young minds or despondent fans of the White Sox organization everywhere.

For starters, the Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the White Sox for the first time since July 2-4, 2004, at Wrigley Field, and Ozzie Guillen's crew became the first to lose five games in this heated rivalry during a single season since the crosstown Interleague Play expanded to a home-and-home series. The White Sox also watched their record slip to 30-30 all-time against the Cubs.

But losing a trio of games to the Cubs (35-39) was the least of the White Sox problems. They now have dropped five straight overall -- or 15 of 18 or 22 of 27, if you prefer -- while slipping to 13 games under .500 (29-42) for the first time since May 25, 2001. The team's struggling offense, ranked last in the Majors with a .234 average, was completely nonexistent against the North Side rivals.

Facing starters Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill and Sean Marshall along with an assortment of Cubs relievers, the White Sox managed a mere two runs during the entire weekend. They finished 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position and on Sunday, the first five hitters in the batting order combined to go 1-for-18.

Process all of these disheartening pieces of information, if it's at all possible, then take in the words of hitting coach Greg Walker before the White Sox took off for Florida and the start of a seven-game road trip.

"Believe it or not, it could get worse," Walker said. "We are giving effort right now. If that goes, then we have big problems. You have to respect the game and go do your job.

"We get paid to fight and have pride in the White Sox uniform, and we are going to demand that. You can't give into it. They will do it because they are good guys and they are champions."

The champions Walker spoke of, many of whom were part of the 2005 World Series title effort, had chances on Sunday to produce against Marshall (4-2), Carlos Marmol, Will Ohman and closer Bob Howry (second save). But the Cubs' defense was more than up to the challenge in crucial game situations.

Alfonso Soriano, who went deep in all three games of the series, threw out Luis Terrero at home to complete a double play with the game scoreless in the fifth. Shortstop Cesar Izturis also made two sparkling plays to take away hits from Paul Konerko, and Angel Pagan came up with a tumbling catch after turning three different ways on Konerko's long fly ball to end the sixth.

At a time when fortunes are already dismal for the White Sox offense, it doesn't need any help in squelching momentum. Still, the team gave its crosstown rivals kudos.

"One thing, I think the White Sox fans are going to be mad at me or whoever -- I don't care. They played the [heck] out of us," said Guillen of the Cubs, after watching his team finish 2007 Interleague action at 4-14 on the heels of a 14-4 effort in 2006. "They outplayed us this weekend."

Jose Contreras (5-8) was the latest victim of the run-supply shortage, allowing just two runs over seven solid innings and striking out three. The Cubs added a third run in the eighth after a wild and eventually controversial play that led to Guillen's second ejection of the season.

With runners on first and second and nobody out, Mark DeRosa lined a pitch from Boone Logan over the head of right fielder Rob Mackowiak. Felix Pie, the runner on second, moved back to the base to tag, while Pagan, the runner on first, went full steam ahead. This confusion eventually led to a series of rundowns, resulting in Pagan getting nailed at second by shortstop Juan Uribe and then Pie getting tagged out at home by third baseman Josh Fields.

That odd double play didn't hold up. Second-base umpire Ed Rapuano had signaled obstruction against Uribe when Pagan ran into him at second, leading to all three runners being ruled safe after a play was made on Pagan. Guillen tried to get an explanation on the call for a few minutes, following a long discussion amongst the umpires, before West tossed him.

"He got two outs and he ended up getting no outs, and that's why Ozzie said, 'You're just going to have to kick me out. I can't take that,'" explained West, the crew chief. "He didn't use any profanity; he was very gentlemanly. He is going to stick up for his players, and we don't blame him."

Even the arguments are becoming a little milder in this time of rare failure for Guillen. The issue presently facing Guillen and especially general manager Ken Williams is whether this same group will be -- or should be -- together when the White Sox return home from Kansas City on July 2.

Williams' pregame comments made it clear that changes are coming, changes he might want to undertake before things do get worse. If those changes involve the trade of a quality contributor such as Mark Buehrle, they might be as tough to view as the White Sox last 27 games.

"I still have faith that they can get something done, I really do," said Konerko of the efforts to keep Buehrle in Chicago. "That's my hope. But if not, I'll have to gather myself. That will be a tough one."

"It's tough to not think about it when you are reading the papers, but as a player, you have to keep that separate," added White Sox leadoff man Scott Podsednik of trade talk. "You can't start concerning yourself with what's going on in the front office or what's going on around the league."

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