Paul Sullivan: Dallas Keuchel called out his teammates for lax play. And if White Sox want to contend, they better heed his words.

CHICAGO — Dallas Keuchel delivered a strong message to his teammates Monday night in Detroit.

We’ll soon find out if they were listening.

After the Chicago White Sox offense looked lifeless again in a 5-1 loss to the Tigers, Keuchel accused unnamed players of “going through the motions.”

It was a jarring accusation coming so early in the year, even if 16 games now account for more than a quarter of the season.

It made you go through the Sox lineup and wonder who he was referring to, as there was no blatant dogging going on. The Sox didn’t commit any errors, and the only misplay was Adam Engel missing JaCoby Jones’ liner and turning it into an inside-the-park home run.

Whoever it was, it bothered Keuchel enough to make the point the Sox have to show up day in, day out, if they hope to succeed.

“I would have liked to see the team play better tonight, especially after a kind of defeating loss (Sunday) night with (Lucas) Giolito and (Shane) Bieber going at it,” he said during a teleconference. “We just came out flat and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game.

“We’ve got a lot of guys, let me take that back — we’ve got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win and we’ve got some guys going through the motions.

“So we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we’re going to have to start that now. Like I mentioned to you guys before, when you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it’s very frustrating when you have games like this and it just seems like we were out of it from the get-go.”

Keuchel pointed out the Sox arrived in Detroit early in the morning after the Sunday night loss to the Cleveland Indians but wouldn’t use it as an excuse.

“That’s who we’re going to have to beat if we’re going to win this division or we get into the playoffs,” he said. “It just seemed like we were taking a night off. We can’t afford that with a young core that we have here. We’ve got to show up every day and even if there’s no fans, we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go.

“And if we’re not ready to go we’ve got to fake it until we make it. It just seemed like today was one of the first games that I’ve seen very subpar play from everybody.”

It should be manager Rick Renteria’s job to call out his players when they’re going through the motions. Either he didn’t agree with Keuchel or it just isn’t in him to criticize his young players. Renteria is optimistic by nature, and when he does call someone out — as he did last week when he criticized Nick Madrigal’s base-running decision in Milwaukee — it’s almost shocking to hear.

Thank goodness for Keuchel, who proved on his first day in Chicago he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. At SoxFest in January he became the first player from the 2017 Houston Astros to apologize for the sign-stealing scandal, and he candidly told Giolito in spring training he still had something to prove after his All-Star year.

“I know Lucas had a career year, had the breakout year,” Keuchel told me in Arizona. “I already told him: ‘Do it again and people will take you seriously. There’s a lot of one-hit wonders in this league. And if you want to maintain an excellent stretch or just be a great ballplayer, you’re going to have to continue to do it over and over again. Because once you have a bad season after a good season, you’re written off.’ ”

Giolito and Keuchel have done their jobs. Now the Sox need to start hitting again if they plan to compete in a division that could be a four-way battle instead of just the Twins and Sox.

The word “urgency” is not in the Sox’s vocabulary as evidenced by the decision to have a bullpen day Saturday in a loss to Cleveland. Sitting rookie Luis Robert on Monday was another head-scratcher as the Sox have an off-day on Thursday. Even if he’s in a mini-slump, Robert’s presence in the lineup is needed.

No matter who is in the lineup or on the mound, the Sox need to come to play every night, even without the energy provided by fans.

Keuchel plainly stated Monday that “if you don’t want to dominate the guy who’s throwing to you or if you don’t want to compete against a whole lineup that you’re facing, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Yes, the Sox have a young core, but they’re not all rookies.

“There’s going to be a lot of learning curves for this team just because of the process that this team has been under the last two, three years,” Keuchel said. “This is one of them. We faced a challenge tonight and hopefully we can come out tomorrow and strap it up and play some White Sox baseball.”

So here we are. We’ve already come to a crossroads in this White Sox season, and now we’ll find out how they respond to some internal criticism.

Sox management has pushed the narrative that this season still is part of the process and that the real focus should be on long-term success instead of just 2020. Keuchel has disavowed that notion from the outset.

Making the postseason, he said in Arizona, was the only goal, adding “there’s too much talent in this room to think anything less” than playing in October.

“If it’s anything short of the playoffs, then it’s a failure,” he said.


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