The Kansas City Royals entered the second half hoping to make a push toward their first postseason appearance in 29 years, but they instead struggled offensively while being swept to fall below .500 for the first time since early June.
Now they're tasked with trying to solve one of the stingiest pitchers in baseball.Kansas City looks to avoid its seventh loss in eight games as it opens a three-game road set against Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.The Royals (48-49) dropped three of four to Detroit before the break, then scored five runs in three losses to Boston over the weekend. They managed only four hits against Jon Lester in Sunday's 6-0 defeat and extended their scoreless streak to 15 innings.Kansas City fell below .500 for the first time since June 8 and now sits in third place in the AL Central, seven games behind the first-place Tigers."You basically just shake it off and get right back out there," said designated hitter Billy Butler, who went 0 for 4 after hitting .342 over his previous 10. "We faced a tough left-hander today and it doesn't get any easier. We face Chris Sale tomorrow."Butler has had some success against Sale, though, going 14 for 37 (.378) with three homers and two doubles. The Royals are hoping for that kind of production in this contest, as the left-hander dominated them April 6 by allowing four hits in eight scoreless innings of a 5-1 road victory.Sale (8-1, 2.08 ERA) is 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA over his last three starts, including allowing one run in 7 2/3 innings of the White Sox's 5-4 loss to Boston in his most recent outing July 9.Chicago's bullpen allowed four runs after he left, but he moved forward quickly."Obviously, you want to win every game you're winning," Sale said. "Any time you lose a game like this it's tough, but this is baseball."Sale will be pitching on 11 days' rest due to the All-Star break, and he's 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings when getting at least six days between starts.Jeremy Guthrie is hoping his layoff can help him snap out of his funk as he visits a ballpark he's been rather fond of recently.Guthrie (5-8, 4.56) has been roughed up in his last two starts, going just four innings in each. He allowed six runs in a 7-3 loss at Cleveland on July 5 before giving up eight in a 16-4 loss to Detroit five days later."Very similar to the previous outing, with a similar outcome," Guthrie said. "I'd rather lose 2-1 and look back on one bad pitch instead of 20."The right-hander has pitched well against the White Sox this season, though, going 2-0 with a 3.44 ERA in three starts. He's been especially good at U.S. Cellular Field recently, going 4-0 with a 1.30 ERA in his last five outings.Chicago (47-52) won two of three at home over the weekend, though it fell 11-7 to Houston on Sunday. The White Sox rallied from four down in the third to tie it in the sixth, when Jose Abreu had an RBI single.Abreu's two hits extended his hitting streak to 11. He's batting .350 with 10 homers while hitting safely in 29 of his last 30, a stretch that began against Kansas City on June 15.
Chris Sale is allowing a .103 batting average against his slider this season, third best in the majors among pitchers who have made at least 10 starts. Billy Butler is hitting .164 against sliders this year, 66 points less than the major league average.