Robin Ventura is watching the division lead slip away. USATSI

The White Sox lost again on Friday night, this time to the Royals (KC 7, CHW 5). This latest defeat was particularly painful because the White Sox held a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. Then this happened ...


That's an ugly frame, but what was particularly frustrating was that Nate Jones, the Sox's best setup man thus far, was the fifth pitcher of the inning and didn't come in until after the three-run lead had been squandered. Sure, Jones is primarily an eighth-inning guy, and managers and relievers these days tend to like defined roles. However, Jones has on two prior occasions this season pitched in the seventh inning (scoreless appearances, both), so it's not as though it's completely foreign set of circumstances.

On a deeper level, managers and the bullpens they run simply must be more fluid and adaptive in their thinking. That wasn't the case in KC on Friday night, and it may have cost Robin Ventura's team the game.

And speaking of losing games, the Sox have done a lot of that lately. After their 8-4 win over Texas on May 9, the White Sox were 23-10 and had a season-best six-game lead in the AL Central. Since then, however, they've gone 4-12 and now lead the division by just a half-game over the Indians, one game over the Royals, and two-and-a-half games over the Tigers. As of Friday morning -- i.e., before that night's loss to the Royals -- the SportsLine Projection Model gave the Sox just a 38.4 percent chance of winning the Central.

To be sure, the White Sox were never as good as they appeared to be on their May 9 peak. They were on a 113-win pace after that win over the Rangers, and that was plainly unsustainable. However, the depth of their collapse since then has been jarring.

Over this ongoing grim span, they've scored just 3.9 runs per game while giving up 4.8 runs per game. On an individual level, Mat Latos has come hurtling back to earth, and the team's getting sub-optimal production from shortstop, catcher, and center field.

The White Sox will rebound to an extent, even if the roster doesn't change. Just as they weren't truly as good as they looked on May 9, they aren't truly as bad as they've looked since May 10. However, in a compressed division like the AL Central, in which three other teams have legit designs on the flag, GM Rick Hahn may need to seek outside improvements in order to get the playoff berth for which he's spoiling. Consider the last 16 games to be an acute reminder of that.