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Bullpen implodes again, White Sox swept by Royals

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale delivers to a Kansas City Royals batter during the first inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, May 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So how is your holiday weekend going?

Don’t ask anyone in the White Sox bullpen, which had one for the ages in Kansas City.

As if playing a game of ‘Can you top this disaster” on each successive day, the bleeding Sox pen got things started by blowing a three-run lead in their important series opener with the Royals Friday night, helped the Royals defy near-impossible mathematical odds by staging the greatest comeback in team history and then, to top it all off, the Sox pen made it a complete set on Sunday by blowing a two-run lead for ace Chris Sale.

The result? The Royals completed a three-game sweep, handed the Sox their fifth defeat in a row and 14th in the last 18 games and left the wobbly South Siders what blindsided them on the way to postseason contender status.

And to think the pen was arguably the No. 1 reason why the Sox had bolted to a 23-10 lead.

“You scratch your head and it’s hard to fathom,” manager Robin Ventura said in his office, just outside a quiet visitors clubhouse. “It’s baseball and it makes it great and suck all at the same time.”

There are implosions (Friday), there are historic implosions (Saturday) and then there are total series meltdowns that leave one wondering if the Sox will have the wherewithal to get back up, recover and be the division contenders they insist they are. Knocked out of first place for the first time since April 22 on Saturday, they inched a game farther from the top by falling to 27-24.

Players are taking the high, one-for-all and all-for-one road. Sale, the longest tenured Sox, stood firm after seeing his bid for a 10th victory go by the boards.

“This is nothing but a speed bump,’’ he insisted. “Let’s look at each other, let’s figure it out, let’s collect it and push forward. We don’t have any doubt in ourselves. This was as bad a series as you can possibly have and there is still no doubt we’ll push through this.’’

This much is certain: They won’t push through if someone can’t come into a game and throw a strike, make a pitch or get an out. Sox relievers in the three games vs. the Royals were tagged for 14 runs, 15 hits and eight walks over 6 1/3 innings.

Bad bullpens have a way of putting manager’s jobs on the line. There are no indications Ventura is in trouble but fans, distraught over the wreckage in Kansas City and the recent slump in general, are calling for a change.

“That’s part of the action,” Ventura said.

“I don’t feel any more pressure than there already is. That’s just part of the job and you do it.”

Sale gave up two runs over seven innings and left with a 4-2 lead. This time it was eighth-inning setup man Nate Jones who failed. Jones gave three runs, allowing a solo homer to Lorenzo Cain, two more hits and two walks before yielding to Matt Albers. Cheslor Cuthbert’s infield single against Albers with the bases loaded pushed in the go-ahead run.

What team is this? The one that rolled to a 23-10 start or the one that looks to be in a free-fall?

“You don’t know,” Ventura said. “It will show itself. You see the tough stretches and you have to rebound from it. We have to do that, there is no other way to do it.”

Catcher Dio Navarro said they are keeping the faith.

If it isn’t “we’re [screwed],” Navarro said. “Bottom line, everyone’s mentality is in the right place.”

And Sale indicated the players are keeping the faith in their manager.

“I understand people – I’ll keep it that – people want to point fingers and find blame but at the end of the day it falls on the players,’’ Sale said. “I don’t think he’s giving up any runs.’’