WASHINGTON — Uh, not so fast, .500 mark.
Rolling along after a 6-1 home-stand that had them one game away from the break-even mark, then pouncing on Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg with five runs in the first two innings Tuesday, the White Sox were abruptly taken down a notch with a rapid-fire assault on their oh-so vulnerable rotation.
With two runs allowed in the third inning, one in the fourth and six more in the fifth in a 9-5 loss, the Sox (29-31) waved goodbye to a promising start to a five-game trip that continues with one more game against the Nats on Wednesday -afternoon and three in Kansas City this weekend.
Once again, right-hander Reynaldo Lopez’s inability to be anything close to what he was in his first full season in 2018 exposed the Sox where they are most vulnerable — in the starting rotation. Lopez’s line: four-plus innings, six runs, five hits, four walks, two home runs, a hit batsman and a balk.
Staked to a 5-0 lead, Lopez walked two batters before Anthony Rendon’s two-run double in the third, allowed a leadoff homer to Howie Kendrick in the fourth, then the knockout punch: a three-run blast by Rendon in the fifth.
Left-hander Josh Osich was no better, allowing doubles to Matt Adams and Kendrick and a homer to Victor Robles.
The Sox raked Strasburg for four in the first on RBI singles by James McCann and Eloy Jimenez and a two-run single by Yolmer Sanchez. When Yoan Moncada launched a 459-foot homer, his 11th of the season, in the second, the .500 party was on.
Or so it seemed.
It will be tough to win consistently with one good starting pitcher, even if he is the American League Pitcher of the Month, but Lucas Giolito (8-1, 2.54 ERA) has Lopez (3-6, 6.62), Dylan Covey (1-4, 4.73), Ivan Nova (3-5, 6.24) and Manny Banuelos (3-4, 7.36) behind him.
Most worrisome for the Sox is that Lopez has taken a big step back after going 7-10 with a 3.91 ERA on a 100-loss team in 2018.
‘‘Very inconsistent, deep counts, was missing his spots,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “His ball-to-strike ratio is about even right now, so that’s not what you want.
“He seems to be in a little bit of a twilight zone.”
In his last three starts, Lopez has allowed 19 runs in 13„ innings, failing to get a win when given leads of 4-1, 7-1 and 5-0.
“The offense is doing its job, and then it’s on me that I’m not able to stop them,” Lopez said.
The offense missed a prime chance in the fifth when Moncada walked and Jose Abreu doubled him to third. But with the Nationals’ infield in, Strasburg induced ground-ball outs from McCann and Tim Anderson before striking out Jimenez, leaving a zero on the board.
Backed by four scoreless innings of relief, Strasburg (6-3, 3.54) earned his 100th career win as the underachieving Nationals (27-33) won for the eighth time in 10 games.
Lopez, a former National, is 18-22 in his career, but Renteria isn’t giving up on him, insisting he’ll be “an excellent starting pitcher.”
He’ll have to get himself out of that twilight zone first.
“These bad stretches have been because I’ve been thinking a lot,’’ Lopez said. “As soon as I can clear my mind and start thinking less and executing better pitches, things are going to turn around. I don’t need to think a lot. I just need to execute more.”