White Sox need to tighten things up

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In recent days, as the first-place White Sox turn into the home stretch that is September with a cushy double-digit lead in the AL Central, manager Tony La Russa has made multiple references to his team stepping up its game.

Not one to criticize players publicly, La Russa doesn’t have to say the Sox need to run the bases better. Danny Mendick hesitating between second and third Saturday night before getting thrown out and Eloy Jimenez getting doubled off first on an infield liner were only recent examples.

Or the Royals, easily stealing third base twice in their series victory over the Sox, completed with a 6-0 win Sunday, because they weren’t checked at second base.

Per the Fielding Bible, the Sox are 23rd in the major leagues in defensive runs saved, so there’s that. And there are the little things that add up. La Russa, the second winningest manager of all time, knows it more than most.

“Generally you want every piece of our game [clicking],” La Russa said when asked about the areas he has alluded to recently, “whether it’s the starting pitching or reliever, whether it’s pitch making or strategy. Like yesterday, we didn’t execute twice against Mr. Perez.”

That was La Russa talking before Salvador Perez, who hit his 39th and 40th homers against Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech in a 10-7 Sox win against the Royals Saturday night. Shortly after La Russa spoke, Perez smoked a Dylan Cease fastball 448 feet over the right-center field wall for a three-run homer in the first inning Sunday. The Sox, who would be shut out for the 10th time by Brady Singer and two relievers, were done.

“We had other [Perez] at-bats in the three days, the ball stayed in the park, right?” La Russa said. “So there is a way we were going to go after him and we made mistakes and he punished us. But the plan was if you’re going to make a mistake, don’t make it over the plate, make it off the plate. Paid dearly.”

Cease, who allowed an unearned run because of first baseman Gavin Sheet’s error in the four innings that followed, didn’t think it was a bad pitch and Statcast showed it was outside. But Perez is prone to chasing, so perhaps it wasn’t quite outside enough. He had eight homers against the Sox this season.

“I mostly just tip my cap honestly,” said Cease (11-7, 3.87 ERA), who lost for the first time since July 21. “It could have been a little more off the plate but it was a decent pitch so just a good piece of hitting.”

In any event, the win gave the Royals (61-75) not only a series win against the Sox (79-58) but a 10-9 edge in the season series. The Sox are 6-7-2 in series since the All-Star break after going 16-7-6 before it.

“We knew we were at 9-9 and trying to win this thing but they play hard,” La Russa said. “Next year we’ll do a better job to defend the running game.”

“We can always change up our looks better or maybe be a little quicker to the plate,” Cease said.

And they can always be better overall. Or strive to be, even with a magic number of 16.

“Defensively, baserunning, each guy individually, their hitting,” La Russa said. “I mean, your best chance to win is when you play at your peak.”

NOTE: Yoan Moncada’s hitting streak was halted at 17 but La Russa said the league will be asked to take away an error from second baseman Whit Merrifield.

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