January 29, 2023

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Sox show flashes, but winning ways elude them in Toronto

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TORONTO — Amid alternating moments of greatness and inconsistency, the White Sox simply couldn’t find a time to make it all click.

Chicago (23-26) left Rogers Centre with three consecutive losses to the Blue Jays, capped by an 8-3 loss on Thursday afternoon that will send the team to another tough road challenge with many unanswered questions and one energizing emotion.

“What you do [after these losses] is you get angry,” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa. “Don’t get discouraged, don’t get frustrated, don’t pout. Get angry, do something about it and get ready to play Friday.”

The White Sox could certainly use that jolt of energy after a series in which the trend was an apparent disconnect between pitching and hitting.

When the visitors finally got a quality start — Johnny Cueto pitched six innings and allowed three earned runs in the finale — the bats fell dormant for most of the day. In the prior two games, the offense was there, but reliable pitching was amiss.

And every time it looked like Chicago may have found a way to come back within reach, with timely hitting and good defensive innings, Toronto roared back with a handful of unanswered runs.

“That’s been the tale of all three games. … All three games, we got a little taste of winning late,” said La Russa. “Those [losses], they get at you the most. But I’d rather lose having a chance than not.”

The White Sox put their best foot forward in their attempt to avoid a sweep, stacking up on left-handed bats against Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah, who entered Thursday’s matchup allowing a .304 average and an .811 OPS to lefty hitters. It looked like it would work wonders when Leury Garcia and Luis Robert opened the first inning with back-to-back singles and Gavin Sheets walked with two out to load the bases.

But Manoah promptly struck out Yasmani Grandal to end the inning and the early threat. The righty, a Cy Young candidate through 10 starts this year, retired the next 16 White Sox batters. It took Chicago 7 2/3 innings to earn its first extra-base hit of the day.

On the other side, Cueto was solid. The veteran White Sox starter struck out five and allowed seven hits, including a home run, over six innings. Without any run support, however, Cueto took his second loss of the season and is still looking for his first win.

“He pitched very well … we didn’t score enough for him,” said La Russa.

It wasn’t until the eighth inning, with two outs and the Blue Jays sporting a 4-0 lead, that the White Sox bats woke up. Robert, who looked fully healthy in his second game back from the COVID-19 injured list, drove in two runs on a double that knocked Manoah out of the game. He then sneakily stole third base and scored on a Yoán Moncada single. The rally fell short, however, when José Abreu flied out to end the frame.

One run behind the Blue Jays after trailing by four for most of the day, the White Sox turned to reliever Reynaldo López, who was charged with four runs without recording an out and hit Matt Chapman with a pitch on the back that grazed his helmet and sent him down.

“I hate that part of the game,” said La Russa. “It was accidental, but it just leaves a bad feeling. I’m glad he got up and finished the game.”

The Blue Jays had broken the game open by the time the inning ended, effectively negating Chicago’s near comeback.

“We [need to] address what wasn’t good enough and how to fix it,” said La Russa. “And then you make sure that you don’t lose the good stuff just because you lost the game.”

The key moving forward will be aligning the good stuff and capitalizing on the winning chances. As the losses start piling up, Chicago can ill afford to waste big nights from the likes of Andrew Vaughn and José Abreu or quality starts from veterans like Cueto, especially with another tough opponent in the Rays awaiting in St. Petersburg.

“We need to forget about these three games that we lost,” said Cueto. “There’s four months left, and we have to keep moving forward.”

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