Chris Sale was the surprising ace of the Chicago White Sox rotation in the first half, but he's labored over the last two months.
Sale will try to avoid a third straight losing start Saturday and help the White Sox end a frustrating six-game skid against the visiting Kansas City Royals.
Central-leading Chicago holds a one-game lead over Detroit and Sale (15-6, 2.93 ERA) is among the biggest reasons why.
The White Sox (74-63) especially need him to regain his form after a 7-5 loss in Friday's series opener. Closer Addison Reed gave up a two-run homer in the ninth to Lorenzo Cain - his second of the game - and Chicago went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
The Royals (62-76) have matched a franchise record with six straight wins against the White Sox, accomplished most recently in 1982.
"They're just as formidable as anybody,'' Paul Konerko said of Kansas City. "We realize that, and we certainly don't go into games taking them lightly, so it's no surprise to us."
Friday's loss was the eighth in 11 games overall for Chicago, which continues to struggle with timely hitting. It leads the majors with a .285 average with runners in scoring position, but is batting .191 (13 for 68) in those situations over the last seven games.
"We can get them on, but we are having problems getting them in," manager Robin Ventura said.
Sale is experiencing a similar sense of futility. After going 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA to start the season, he is 4-4 with a 4.64 ERA over his last eight starts.
The left-hander allowed five home runs over his first 110 2-3 innings this year, but has given up 12 over the last 52 1-3, including two in a 4-2 loss at Detroit on Sunday.
He surrendered four runs and tied a career high with four walks over six innings in that game.
"I've been giving up a lot of home runs lately and that's just not getting it done," Sale said. "It can't happen, especially now at this time of the year when games count and you need wins."
While he's lost his last two starts, both were on the road, and he's had much better success at home, winning four straight starts and seven consecutive decisions there since losing to Kansas City on May 12. He has a 1.74 ERA at U.S. Cellular Field this year.
Sale is 2-2 with a 3.25 ERA against the Royals this season, giving up four runs and nine hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-2 road loss on Aug. 17.
He'll want to pitch carefully to Salvador Perez, who homered Friday and is hitting .387 with eight RBIs in eight games against the White Sox this year.
Another Royal that enjoys playing in Chicago is scheduled starter Bruce Chen (10-11, 5.28), who has won four straight starts there while recording a 1.34 ERA in his last five outings at U.S. Cellular Field.
However, Chen struggled in an 8-4 loss to Texas on Monday, surrendering a career high-tying four homers and six runs over six innings.
The left-hander has given up two runs in each of his last two starts against the White Sox. Konerko is 8 for 39 (.205) in their matchups, but four of those hits have left the park.
The White Sox hope to get Adam Dunn back after the slugger sat out Friday with a strained oblique, which also sidelined him two games last weekend. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis left the team to be with his wife, who is expected to give birth to their first child.
- Kansas City Royals