OAKLAND—It would be easy to dismiss the last two nights as the White Sox just running into exceptional starting pitching.
But to do that, one would have to dismiss what has happened to their offense this month.
It has disappeared. And for a team that relies on denting the fences and big innings, that's not a good sign.
Friday night it was Barry Zito's turn to shut down the Sox.
Though one of the premier left-handers in baseball, Zito hasn't been sharp this year, coming into the game with a very pedestrian 4.62 ERA.
But Zito appears to be rounding into form, posting his third strong start in his last four outings with a routine 5-1 victory over the punchless Sox.
The loss was yet another in a string of futility on the East Bay. The Sox now have lost 15 out of their last 16 games in Oakland.
"It's ridiculous," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It's starting to get old. I don't know if it's a good staff or we can't hit here.
"Zito threw the ball real well. It's tough to win too many games scoring one or two runs. I hope my players don't start feeling sorry for themselves. I expect them to step up and perform."
Zito gave up just four hits over seven innings and never appeared to be in trouble. Despite pitching well recently, Zito won for the first time since June 8, a span of six starts in which he went 0-4.
The victory also improved Zito's lifetime mark against the Sox to 5-1.
It helped that Zito was staked to a three-run lead after the first inning against Sox starter Mark Buehrle.
After striking out leadoff hitter Mark Kotsay, Buehrle gave up consecutive singles to Eric Byrnes and Eric Chavez. Jermaine Dye then hit an opposite-field home run and just like that, the Sox were in a hole.
Considering they came into Friday's game scoring two runs or less in seven of their 11 games this month, that appeared to be too big a hole to escape.
The Sox cut the deficit to 3-1 in the second, scoring in a manner in which they may have need to become more proficient.
Carlos Lee led off the inning with a double, went to third on a Paul Konerko groundout and scored on a Joe Crede groundout.
It wasn't the most exciting baseball, but with designated hitter Frank Thomas out until mid-September with a stress fracture in his left foot and the rest of the offense in another teamwide funk, the Sox are going to need to take advantage of every opportunity.
Guillen said before the game the key to his offense will be how much production he gets from his top two hitters.
In the last nine games, including Friday's, his top two hitters have gone 9-for-68 (.132). Add the third-place hitternow Magglio Ordonez againand it gets worse. The top three of the Sox order is 5-for-44 (.114) in their last five games including Friday.
"I believe [Juan] Uribe and Willie [Harris] have a good month left," Guillen said. "Give me a good month and we'll go from there. That's the key right now."
The Sox also are going to need exceptional starting pitching, and they didn't get it from Buehrle.
In the second, Bobby Crosby doubled off him to start the inning and scored when Marco Scutarothe No. 9 hitterdoubled to give the A's their three-run cushion again.
Buehrle wasn't awful Friday, giving up four runs in six innings, but Sox starters don't have much margin for error these days.
Fortunately for the Sox, their closest challenger in the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins, appear to be spinning their wheels as much as the Sox. The Twins lost their fifth consecutive game Friday, remaining a half-game behind the Sox in the American League Central Division.
More worrisome for the Sox may be the Detroit Tigers, who moved to within 4½ games of the Sox with their victory and still have 19 games against the Sox this season.