MINNEAPOLIS: A team never officially goes into crisis mode. Most clubs try to conceal the fact they are on the brink of a catastrophic plunge by maintaining a thin veneer of optimism and cardboard smiles.
Which brings us to the Indians. On Sunday, they were 5-1 losers to the Twins, a fading team that swept the three-game weekend set at Target Field without so much as breaking a sweat.
The Tribe was out-hit, outpitched, outdefensed and outrun. They all knew it yet were powerless to do anything about it.
Ubaldo Jimenez had another drab performance, where he wasn’t quite bad enough to take behind the woodshed to be rapped on the knuckles and not proficient enough to deserve a postgame slap on the back from his teammates in the clubhouse.
He gave up all the runs on six hits, three walks, one wild pitch and one balk.
Put it this way: If there are other ways to allow batters to reach base and permit them to advance around the diamond, Jimenez will find them.
For example, with Minnesota leading 2-1, Ben Revere doubled with one out in the fifth. Jimenez balked him to third then threw a fastball in the dirt for a wild pitch that sent Revere dashing home with an important run.
“I was thinking maybe I could pick him off second and got messed up,” Jimenez said. “On the wild pitch, I was trying to execute a pitch down, a fastball inside.”
Manager Manny Acta thought Jimenez was thinking something else when he committed the balk. There was really no way to know for sure by watching him.
“It looked to me like they [catcher, pitcher] weren’t committed to the pitch, and he stopped his motion,” Acta said. “Anything that could go wrong did go wrong.”
That includes the first two games of the series, which the Tribe lost 11-0 and 12-5. Those numbers tell the story: no pitching and no hitting by the visiting team.
“It was very disappointing the way we played this series, especially after the last series,” Acta said. “Everything is a challenge, but we weren’t even a challenge to these guys.”
It appeared that after the Indians won two of three from the Tigers at Progressive Field, including beating Justin Verlander, that they would handle the Twins and the Royals, who are next up for the Tribe.
“Today was another game where we just didn’t do anything right,” Acta said. “Ubaldo was OK, but it seemed like every time he walks someone, the guy scores. But you can’t take anything away from the Twins. They scored 28 runs.”
Jimenez (8-10, 5.08 ERA) did not overload the bases with runners who walked. But when he walked Josh Willingham to lead off the fourth inning, Justin Morneau followed with a first-pitch drive that cleared the fence to wipe out the Indians’ 1-0 advantage five minutes after the run scored.
“I guess the off day [today] is coming at the right time,” Acta said. “It give us a chance to get our act together to play Kansas City.”
If the Indians cannot turn around their fortunes against the last-place team in the Central Division, it might be time to stick a fork in them in terms of staying in contention for the division championship or the wild card.
In speaking of the club’s 4-9 record the past two weeks, Jimenez said: “It’s been really bad. We were able to beat Detroit, and we came here with high hopes to keep it going, but it didn’t end up that way.”
For the first time since April 13, the Indians are two games under .500 (50-52) and trail the first-place White Sox by 5½ games.
“We are falling behind,” Jimenez said. “We were only like three games behind. I would never say it doesn’t bother me, and I know there’s a lot of time left. But it gets in your mind a little. You know you’re not doing your job.”
On July 5, the Tribe was in second place, two games out of the lead. On July 24, the club was three games behind and had fallen to third place.
“We do have 60 games to go,” Acta said. “But you’re not going to go on a winning streak without good starting pitching. Right now, we’re scuffling.”
The offense is no less responsible for the club’s problems than the pitching. The Indians scored just six runs in the three games against the Twins’ patchwork rotation.
“I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t deflate you a little,” Shelley Duncan said. “This is the time of year when you start scoreboard watching. But if you don’t worry about it [other teams] and focus on your own team, you can pull off a little run. Usually the teams that do that are the ones that aren’t worried about other teams.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.