The surprise leaders of the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox know they will be tested right out of the All-Star break.
Hoping to end their recent struggles in Kansas City, the White Sox open a 10-game trip Friday night looking to hand the Royals a fourth consecutive defeat.
After finishing 79-83 in 2011, Chicago (47-38) has benefited from the resurgence of two veterans and first-year manager Robin Ventura's calm approach to hold a three-game division lead over Cleveland. The White Sox have won 11 of 15, including a split of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium and a home sweep of AL West-leading Texas.
"You feel you can play with anybody," Ventura said. "How it ends up, nobody knows that. You can control your effort."
Chicago will need to give a maximum effort this weekend in Kansas City, where it has lost 14 of 20 and not won a series since July 2-4, 2009. Things don't get easier with stops in Boston and Detroit for the White Sox, who are 23-16 on the road and play 16 of 19 after the break away from home.
"We've played pretty well on the road this year. We'll just take it as it comes," said All-Star Paul Konerko, who flirted with .400 in May but has batted .228 with one homer in his last 15 games.
Adam Dunn earned an All-Star nod by hitting 25 home runs, 14 more than all of 2011, and teammate Alex Rios is batting .318 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in 83 games after hitting .227 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs a year ago.
Chicago also has benefited from the recent acquisition of Kevin Youkilis, batting .347 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 13 games with his new team.
Scheduled starter Jose Quintana (4-1, 2.04 ERA) has been a pleasant surprise during the first 10 appearances - eight starts - of his career.
The left-hander threw eight scoreless innings in back-to-back starts before allowing six runs in six innings of a 14-7 win at New York on June 29. He followed that outing by yielding a run and two hits while striking out a career-high eight over eight innings in a 2-1 win over the Rangers on July 5.
"He has a great feel on the mound, great stuff," Ventura said.
This will be his first appearance against the Royals (37-47), who won two of three at Chicago earlier this season and will try for a fourth consecutive home victory overall Friday.
Kansas City, however, entered the break having been swept by Detroit to conclude a 3-8 trip.
"Definitely not the way we figure it would be," manager Ned Yost told the Royals' official website.
With 16 home runs and 52 RBIs, Billy Butler was Kansas City's lone All-Star in its home park. Though he went 2 for 12 with five strikeouts at Chicago in May, Butler has hit .352 with six homers and 26 RBIs in his last 31 games against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Scheduled starter Bruce Chen (7-8, 5.22) has given up 12 runs and four homers in nine innings while losing his last two starts. He allowed six runs in 3 1-3 innings of an 8-7 defeat at Detroit on Saturday.
Chen, however, is 3-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his last six starts versus Chicago.
All-Star snub A.J. Pierzynski is batting .407 (11 for 27) with two homers off Chen. Rios is 4 for 30 (.133) with eight strikeouts against the left-hander while Konerko is 7 for 30 with three home runs.
- Chicago White Sox
- Robin Ventura