Indians barely hanging on
Manager Manny Acta and several of the Cleveland Indians spent part of a much-needed day off bowling for charity.
They could use a helping hand - or two.
And they got a big one.
With injuries taking their toll and their pitching staff dragging, the Indians are quickly fading from contention in the AL Central. Their unexpected season has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. They've lost six of seven games and entered Thursday trailing first-place Detroit by six games. In less than a week, the Indians slipped 4 1-2 games in the standings, a plunge they may never recover from.
"This week is not going to make or break us - hopefully," said Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin, who failed to pitch five innings for the first time in his career in a loss on Wednesday to Seattle. "What happened to us, it can happen to anybody."
On Thursday night, the team filled a gaping hole in its lineup when slugger Jim Thome agreed to a trade from Minnesota. Thome is back with Cleveland, the team he broke in with and one that needs his help. Thome will replace designated hitter Travis Hafner, who is on the disabled list and possibly out for the season with a foot injury.
The Indians are hoping Thome, the team's career home run leader who left as a free agent in 2002, can push them closer to the Tigers.
"He's a Hall of Fame caliber player and person and we are thrilled to have Jim back in Cleveland for the next month and a half," general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We had preliminary conversations with the Twins before Travis Hafner got hurt. Once Travis got hurt, that made it a more clear fit for Jim."
There may not be a team in the majors that has suffered as many costly injuries as Cleveland. For Thursday's series finale with the Mariners, Acta had only three players - Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta and Jack Hannahan - who were in his lineup on opening day. The Indians are a shell of what they were early this season, when they got off to a 30-15 start as baseball's biggest surprise.
They're not the same.
Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo joined a long list of injured players on Wednesday, when he was scratched with a sore back. Choo got hurt checking his swing in Tuesday's game and said it bothered him while warming up in the indoor cages. The loss of Choo, who homered twice the previous day, was another blow to a batting order missing s Hafner, Grady Sizemore (knee), Michael Brantley (wrist) and Jason Kipnis (hamstring).
On top of that, Santana was pulled in the ninth inning after taking a foul tip off his catcher's mask. Santana was knocked onto his backside by the hard wallop, a visual that sums up Cleveland's current state - groggy.
Still, the Indians are hanging on to the hope they can make another run.
"It's just one more thing to overcome," reliever Joe Smith said. "That's what this team has done all year, and I can promise you this team will still fight. I expect nothing except this team will find a way to turn it around."
Choo and Santana expect to play Friday, when the Indians open a three-game series with Kansas City. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will be back, too, after sitting out on Wednesday.
Thome should have an immediate impact. Without a legitimate threat in the heart of their order - Shelley Duncan batted fourth on Wednesday - the Indians have trouble scoring. And with the way their starting pitchers have suddenly fallen on hard times, that's a major problem.
In the past seven games, Cleveland's starters have gone 0-5 with a 9.61 ERA. With the exception of Justin Masterson, all of the Indians have been roughed up lately. Pitching has been the Indians' strength all season, the single biggest reason they're still in the postseason discussion with September looming. If it doesn't improve, it may be the reason October is just another month on the calendar.
"I don't think I've seen that the whole year," Acta said after Wednesday's 9-2 loss, when Tomlin had his streak of consecutive starts of at least five innings stopped at 37. "I don't think I've seen four out of the five guys not have a quality start. I don't think we had four non-quality starts in a week. I don't think we even did it last year when the guys weren't as good. It's the wrong time. "
Time may be running out on the Indians. Still, they believe it's not too late.
"We're still going," Choo said. "It's tough. But we're still going."