Just over three weeks ago, the Chicago White Sox were becoming contenders in the AL Central.
Now, merely finishing with a winning record would be an accomplishment.The White Sox attempt to end a four-game losing streak at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday night when they open a six-game season-ending homestand against the Kansas City Royals.Chicago (76-80) climbed within five games of division-leading Detroit after extending its winning streak to five by beating Minnesota on Aug. 30. The club is 8-15 since -- 2-6 at home -- and has dropped out of postseason contention for a third straight year. The recent poor stretch includes losing three of four at Kansas City last weekend, when the White Sox avoided a sweep by winning Sunday's finale 10-5.They were in position to take three of four from Cleveland before falling 11-2 on Thursday, drawing the ire of manager Ozzie Guillen, who took umbrage with the notion that the fans are more disappointed than the club itself."Are people disappointed? They should be. I don't think they are more disappointed than I am or we are," Guillen said. "We did not play the way we thought we were going to play. Some things just did not click. When we would pitch pretty good, we would not hit. We could not combine things and that is a reason why we are where we are."Lately, pitching has been the problem.The White Sox have a 6.18 staff ERA over their last 23 games, and the rotation has a 6.88 ERA during a 3-9 stretch.Overcoming those mound issues will be vital if Chicago is to avoid finishing below .500 for the third time in eight seasons under the colorful Guillen. At 33-42, the White Sox have already clinched their first losing home record in four years.Rookie Zach Stewart (2-4, 5.01 ERA) takes the mound for the White Sox.The right-hander threw a one-hit shutout at Minnesota on Sept. 5, but has lost both of his starts since, including a 10-3 defeat at Kansas City on Saturday. He was tagged for five runs and 11 hits in five innings against the Royals after holding them to two runs over 6 1/3 innings of a 5-1 home loss Aug. 12."I don't want to just go out and go through the motions just because I'm here," Stewart told the White Sox's official website. "I'm still trying to get better to where I can stay at this level or compete instead of having outings like this."The White Sox are 6-9 against Kansas City, and another defeat would mean losing the season series for the first time since 2000.Bruce Chen (11-8, 4.14) will try to tilt the odds in the Royals' favor. The left-hander has won both of his starts on the South Side in 2011, allowing one run and five hits in 12 innings. That includes a 5-1 victory while outpitching Stewart in August, yielding one hit in six scoreless innings.Chen wasn't as sharp Sunday, allowing four runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 10-5 home loss to the White Sox.The Royals (68-88) have won eight of 10 overall, but lost 5-3 to Detroit on Wednesday.