The Chicago White Sox can point to their inability to consistently beat the Kansas City Royals as one of the reasons their lead atop the AL Central is as slim as it is.
The White Sox try to avoid dropping their fourth straight series to the Royals on Thursday night in the rubber match of a three-game series.
Chicago had a five-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday with a 3-0 loss to Kansas City after edging out a one-run victory in the opener the previous night. The loss dropped the White Sox's edge over Detroit for first place to just two games due to the Tigers' win over the Oakland Athletics.
The White Sox haven't won a series over the Royals since taking two of three in Kansas City from July 13-15 and have lost 11 of the 17 encounters this season overall.
Chicago's bats were silenced on Wednesday by Bruce Chen, who threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings to earn his 11th victory of the season. Kelvin Herrera followed with 1 1/3 innings of relief before Greg Holland worked around a two- out double to nail down his 14th save.
Alex Gordon clubbed a two-run double and Billy Butler added a sacrifice fly for the Royals, who had lost four of their last five coming in but got the best of 17-game winner Chris Sale on Wednesday.
Sale yielded all three runs over 6 2/3 innings, fanning eight in the loss.
"He's a very good pitcher," Chen said of Sale. "He kept us off-balance, but our offense did a real good job of staying patient and we were able to score three runs."
Alejandro De Aza registered four of the nine hits for Chicago.
"Baseball's a crazy game and things like that are going to happen," Sale said of the setback. "I feel like every time I pitch against these guys I'm always one pitch away."
Jeremy Guthrie has been making all of his pitches since joining the Royals and he gets the call in tonight's finale.
Guthrie is 4-0 with a 1.78 earned run average over his last eight starts, with the Royals winning each game of that stretch. The right-hander is now 4-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 11 games since coming over midseason from the Colorado Rockies.
Guthrie has not factored into the decision of his last two starts, despite going eight innings in both. He held the White Sox to six hits in his club's 2-1 victory on Sept. 9, then yielded two runs on five hits and a walk six days later versus the Angels. Kansas City took a 3-2 win on that day.
The 33-year-old has given up just two unearned runs over 23 2/3 innings over three starts versus the White Sox this season.
The White Sox turn to Francisco Liriano, who makes his second straight start since a brief move to the bullpen.
Liriano was brilliant in a start on Saturday against his former Minnesota Twins club, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning before yielding a two- run homer. It was the only hit he allowed in addition to two walks over the seven-inning outing and the lefty also struck out nine.
"He (Liriano) just looked like he had a lot of confidence out there, just throwing strikes," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "His stuff moves all over the place. When he has that confidence and pounds the strike zone, he's tough."
The 28-year-old is 3-1 with a 5.10 ERA in 10 games (9 starts) since moving from the Twins to the White Sox this season and is 6-5 with a 4.52 ERA lifetime versus the Royals.
That includes a no-decision on Sept. 7 in his final start before his move to the 'pen. Liriano allowed five runs and two homers in five innings in that game.