KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In recent days, as the first-place White Sox turn into the homestretch with a cushy lead in the American League 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 that the Sox need to run the bases better. Danny Mendick hesitating between second and third Saturday before getting thrown out and Eloy Jimenez getting doubled off first base on an infield liner were only recent examples.
Or that the Royals easily stole third base twice in their series victory against the Sox, which they completed with a 6-0 victory Sunday, because they weren’t checked at second.
According to the Fielding Bible, the Sox are 23rd in the majors 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 [Saturday], we didn’t execute twice against Mr. Perez.’’
That was La Russa talking after Royals catcher Salvador Perez hit his 39th and 40th home runs in the Sox’ 10-7 victory Saturday but before he smoked a fastball from Dylan Cease 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, were done.
‘‘We had other [Perez] at-bats in the three days, and the ball stayed in the park, right?’’ La Russa said. ‘‘So there is a way we were going to go after him. We made mistakes, and he punished us. . . . Paid dearly.’’
Cease, who pitched four innings after that three-run first, 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 result gave the Royals (61-75) a 10-9 victory in the season series against the Sox (79-58). 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 the Sox always can 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: Third baseman Yoan Moncada’s hitting streak was halted at 17, but manager Tony La Russa said the league will be asked to take away an error from Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield.