Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Johnny Cueto said his teammates were lacking internal desire after his last outing.
They must have been listening. The White Sox have since won three of four to get back within two games of the final American League wild-card spot. They also are tied for secondin the Central Division, 2 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Guardians.
It will be up to Cueto (4-5, 2.91 ERA) to keep Chicago on a roll when the 36-year-old right-hander takes the mound against the visiting Houston Astros on Monday night in the opener of a four-game series.
"We need to fight," Cueto said through a translator after Chicago lost 8-3 to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday in his most recent outing. "We need to show the fire that we have, if we have any."
That response didn't sit well with White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who said he would have preferred Cueto keep his opinion private.
The team has been playing better, however.
Chicago shut out the visiting Detroit Tigers on Friday and then posted come-from-behind victories on Saturday and Sunday to complete the three-game sweep.
Andrew Vaughn drove in the game-winning run in all three games.
The schedule gets much tougher with the arrival of Houston, however. The Astros (75-41) own the best record in the American League.
Houston plans to send one of its hottest pitchers, right-hander Jose Urquidy, to the mound for the series opener.
Urquidy (11-4, 3.85 ERA) benefited from solid run support in his last outing, getting the win after giving up five runs and five hits in five innings of a 7-5 victory on Tuesday against the visiting Texas Rangers.
Urquidy threw seven shutout innings in his previous start, a 6-1 win against the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 3.
He has made one start against the White Sox in his career and won that game last season. He gave up two runs and four hits in seven innings of a 10-2 victory.
Third baseman Alex Bregman homered for the second straight game to help the Astros beat the visiting Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep and extend their winning streak to four.
Bregman went 2-for-4 with three RBIs to push his hitting streak to six games. He's 9-for-19 in those games with three home runs and eight RBIs.
"I feel good," Bregman said after Sunday's win. "Just trying to continue to prepare correctly."
Bregman said preparation is key for the Astros heading into the home stretch of the season.
"We have to do that if we expect to win," he said. "I think we did a really good job of locking in and focusing and playing hard (against Oakland)."
Bregman has only three plate appearances against Cueto and is 1-for-2 with a walk.
Cueto has given up 21 hits over 14 innings in two starts this month, but the opposition only turned them into five earned runs. He is 4-6 in 14 career starts against Houston with a 3.33 ERA.
The White Sox could be getting a key player back in their lineup as well.
Luis Robert, who is among the team leaders in batting average (.301), home runs (12) and RBIs (56), could return for the series opener after missing the past two games with a sprained wrist.
--Field Level Media