CLEVELAND: That the Indians lost their third game in a row, 7-0 to the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night, is not a big deal nor even noteworthy news. Not after carefully crafting losing streaks of 11 and nine games in the past month.
More important to the future of the franchise — that is, 2013 — is that on top of the mountain of failure the club is amassing, no team in either league could possibly be duller than the current edition of the Tribe. Maybe by definition, persistent losing baseball becomes an inevitable bore to the fans.
But consider this: On Aug. 18, the Indians scored five runs on 10 hits in a loss to the A’s in Oakland. Since then, they have scored no more than three runs in a game and six times have scored one or zero runs. In addition to averaging 1.2 runs per game, they are averaging 6.4 hits but 6.6 strikeouts per game.
In these nine games, the Tribe also has accumulated 11 extra-base hits, eight doubles and three home runs.
“We just couldn’t execute at all,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “We really rely on four guys. And when a left-hander is pitching, it’s really tough because three of those guys bat from the left side. When they are not on top of their game and swinging well, it looks this way.”
The four primary offensive threats to which Acta referred are Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley. All are left-handed hitters except Cabrera, who is a switch-hitter.
Unfortunately for the Tribe, the A’s had a left-hander ready to do battle, Tommy Milone, who delivered six shutout innings, giving up seven hits and one walk.
The nonexistent offense obviously takes the fun out of the game when the Indians come to the plate. Worse, they occasionally raise false hopes among the Progressive Field faithful.
Tuesday night, for example, Shelley Duncan led off the fourth inning with a single and raced to third on Brent Lillibridge’s double. With nobody out, it seemed like a sure thing that the Tribe would cut into what was then a 4-0 deficit.
Instead, Casey Kotchman and Jason Donald struck out, and Jason Kipnis grounded out. At least the fans (attendance, that is, tickets sold, was 13,413, but probably 8,000 actually showed up) were still paying attention. That became apparent when they booed at inning’s end.
“That inning really hurt us,” Acta said. “We really needed to score some runs.”
The Tribe’s hit total reached eight, but in four innings no hits were forthcoming until two were out. To say the attack is struggling would be an understatement.
The Indians’ starting pitching was hardly scintillating, but Zach McAllister is a novice, and it’s unlikely he was subjected to anything like this level of nonsupport in the minors.
Of course, that is not an excuse for giving up five runs in 4⅔ innings. McAllister began the game with great promise, striking out the side in the first inning.
But in the second, he gave up two runs on four hits, and in the third Brandon Moss hit a 3-and-2 pitch over the center-field wall with a man on second, Seth Smith, who doubled. McAllister also allowed a leadoff homer in the fifth to Chris Carter.
“”In the first inning, I threw strike one and usually strike two,” McAllister said. “In the second, I wasn’t able to locate at all, and they made it hurt.”
Acta called it a weird outing, because, “He threw a ton of strikes and was ahead in the count, but just couldn’t finish some of those guys off.”
Maybe the highlight of the game — weirdness-wise — came in the seventh, when Esmil Rogers struck out the side — Carter, Moss and Josh Donaldson — with each third strike dropped by Carlos Santana, who threw to first for the outs. At least it was different.
In addition to shaky starting pitching and nonexistent offense, the defense faltered. Lillibridge, playing shortstop, made a bad throw on a force play for one error, and Choo dropped a fly ball that led to two unearned runs in the ninth when Joe Smith was pitching.
If the players’ minds wandered as they stood at their posts in the field, the fans watching from the grandstand probably understood — if they were watching.
“Nobody is happy but we have to deal with it,” McAllister said. “This is definitely not fun.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ. and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj