ATLANTA — One month to go.
The way the White Sox bid farewell to August with an 11-5 loss to the Braves on Saturday night at SunTrust Park, with Reynaldo Lopez getting lit up for six runs and failing to finish the first inning two days after Dylan Cease allowed eight runs in two-plus innings, the table might be getting set for a long September.
The Sox (60-75) have been saying the last month will be an important springboard into next season. If that’s the case, they’d best flush the last five games of August — all losses — out of their system as quickly as possible.
A month that started out splendidly with series wins in Philadelphia and Detroit has ended with the thud of a sweep at home by the Twins and two consecutive bad pitching performances to open a seven-game road trip.
The Sox have allowed double-digit runs in three straight games. Lopez laid the foundation for this one early.
“What can I say, a really bad outing,” Lopez said. “There is nothing else I can add.”
After trying to avoid a three-game sweep against the National League East-leading Braves, the Sox take on the wild-card-contending Indians for four games in Cleveland.
The Sox were 12-14 in March/April, 16-15 in May, 11-13 in June, 7-17 in July and 14-16 in August.
What will September bring?
“The 2020 season, it starts in September,” first baseman Jose Abreu said after the Sox got swept by the Twins.
For young pitchers like Lopez and Cease, it’s about getting them “where they’re approaching their outings with the utmost emphasis on length,” manager Rick Renteria said. “But that requires efficiency, execution and in-game adjustments. They’re all growing and learning. You want them to learn and grow sooner rather than later.”
September is important for Lopez, who is striving to establish the consistency that has eluded him in 2019 after he pitched like the Sox’ best starter in 2018.
“He’s struggling with that,” Renteria said. “We’d like him to get back on track and finish well going into the winter. That’s our goal because we need that great arm of his to be a part of who we are.”
After pitching five innings of hitless ball before leaving because of illness and dehydration in his last start against the Rangers, Lopez got dinged for six runs and six hits with no strikeouts in the first. He faced nine batters, the knockout blow coming from pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a .138 hitter who drove in the Braves’ fifth and sixth runs with a single past Lopez through the middle of the infield.
It was a weird and, in some cases, unlucky inning for Lopez.
“When you combine bad luck with a bad outing, it’s a disaster,” he said. “That’s what happened.”
Tyler Flowers kept it going with an RBI single that caromed off third base, and Rafael Ortega followed with a soft flare just beyond second baseman Yolmer Sanchez’s reach. There was a passed ball on a Lopez fastball that barely missed catcher Welington Castillo’s mask — Castillo was crossed up expecting a breaking pitch; he just didn’t seem to see it. But Lopez couldn’t make enough pitches to get himself out of trouble, allowing a double by light-hitting Billy Hamilton that bounced over the center-field fence.
Going in, Lopez had a 2.82 ERA since the All-Star break, a fine bounce-back after a 6.34 ERA at the break.
And then this.
“Just keep working,” Lopez said. “Keep doing the same routine. Just because one bad outing, you can’t change what you’ve been doing.”
The Sox got back into it after Lopez’s exit, cutting the deficit to 7-5 with three runs in the seventh but the Braves matched that three with three of their own against Ross Detwiler and Kelvin Herrera, whose contributions to a sloppy night for the Sox included a balk for not stepping off the rubber on an appeal play at third.