This past Monday, the Indians were in a more comfortable position, sharing the lead in the American League Central with the White Sox and tied for the No. 2 seed in the postseason standings. Just six days later, the Tribe is now tied with the Yankees for the final two American League Wild Card spots (the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds) after going 0-6 in that span.
“Every team struggles,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said on Friday. “It's a question of, are you gonna struggle five games, 10 games, 15 games or 100 games? … We don't have that many games to be struggling.”
Cleveland knew where it stood, and a three-game set against Minnesota wasn’t the best place to try to work through offensive woes. Although the Indians plated at least four runs in back-to-back games after being held to two total runs over its previous three contests, they fell to the Twins, 7-5, on Sunday at Target Field. The Tribe’s six-game losing streak is its longest since July 2015.
“We kind of felt like we didn’t go through any skid like this during the season,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said, “and here it is right now.”
The Tribe had gotten used to stellar outings from its pitching staff and suboptimal offensive performances, but the roles were reversed this weekend. Entering the series, Cleveland was 21-3 in games in which it scored at least three runs. The Indians scored nine runs over the past two games, but their starters each allowed five runs, including rookie Triston McKenzie during his 4 1/3-inning outing on Sunday.
“It’s kind of frustrating, because we’re starting to do much better offensively,” Alomar said. "But now it’s getting to the point where we have to do both right in order to win games. That happens.”
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Tribe has limited time to secure its place in the postseason and build momentum. However, one silver lining from Cleveland's tough week was the production of its top four hitters in the lineup. In the series finale at Minnesota, Lindor, Cesar Hernandez, José Ramírez and Carlos Santana combined to go 10-for-19 with three RBIs and three runs scored.
“I like it,” Alomar said of the offense’s recent improvements. “We had a much better approach with two strikes, too. We’re stringing hits, but it’s almost like in boxing like jabbing, jabbing, and then they come in and hit some right hands.”
The offense may be moving in the right direction, but the Tribe no longer has time to proceed in baby steps. The Yankees, who are also 26-21, have won five straight games. Those two teams currently have some breathing room over other contenders for the final two AL postseason spots, including the Mariners (20-25), Orioles (20-26) and Tigers (20-26). But Cleveland will need its offense to assure it doesn't miss the postseason for the second straight year.
“We understand as hitters, we're going to go through ups and downs, we've got to limit those,” Lindor said. “The faster we limit those, the faster we figure out how to help each other out, how to score runs and how to be at our best every single day, the better we're going to be. .... Everybody looks forward to late September because it's that time of the year where it's playoff time or you go home.”
Maybe an off-day is just what the Indians need. They'll use Monday to reboot before a two-game set against the Cubs in Chicago and a four-game series at Detroit. The Tribe will try to turn things around before returning home for a four-game set against the first-place White Sox on Sept. 21.
“Losing six in a row is definitely no fun,” McKenzie said. “But I feel like we’re in a good spot mentally, and I think the off-day will help us kind of reset and get back going, and especially going into the series in Chicago.”