CLEVELAND -- The Indians' magical season is suddenly on life support. Cleveland's drop down the standings over the past week has been dramatic, and the blows absorbed by the Tribe's roster have been devastating.
On Wednesday at Progressive Field, the weary and wounded Indians fielded a starting nine that featured just three holdovers from the club's Opening Day roster. A young and hungry Mariners squad licked its chops and took advantage, sending Cleveland to a 9-2 loss that continued the team's rapid slide.
"This week is not going to make or break us, hopefully," Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. "What happened to us, it can happen to anybody."
Tomlin referred to the fact that the Indians have lost six of their past seven games. Three defeats came at the hands of the rival Tigers, who have caught fire to build a substantial lead over the Tribe in the American League Central. The other three losses came during this four-game home set against Seattle.
Once in first place and seven games in front with a 30-15 record, the Indians are now below the break-even mark and trail first-place Detroit by 6 1/2 games.
In the finale against Seattle, Tomlin's incredible streak of starts consisting of at least five innings came to a halt -- as good an indication as any that Cleveland (63-64) is in a brutal slump. For the first time in 38 career starts, Tomlin left a game before the end of the fifth inning. Six fast runs by the Mariners did the trick.
It was a strange feeling for Tomlin to head to the showers so soon.
"It doesn't feel good," said the pitcher. "You don't want to leave those guys out to dry like that ever. That's the worst fear for me -- leaving a bullpen out to dry like that."
Tomlin allowed a two-run home run to Wily Mo Pena in the fourth inning and then gave up three consecutive two-out hits during a four-run burst by Seattle in the fifth. That prompted manager Manny Acta to move from his seat in the dugout to stroll to the mound. Tomlin was gone after just 4 2/3 innings.
Dating back to 1919, Tomlin and former Indians pitcher and current Blue Jays manager John Farrell are the only pitchers to log at least five frames in each of their first 37 career starts. Farrell had some relief appearances scattered in among his starts, leaving Tomlin with the Major League record for consecutive appearances that include least five innings to open a career.
When Acta pulled Tomlin from the game, the streak was not on the manager's mind.
"I didn't even think about it until after it happened," Acta said. "It was pretty remarkable, the fact that you could go all the way back to whenever and see that only him and John Farrell were able to do that. It's a credit to him.
"He's a guy that wasn't even ever considered a Major League prospect before. It was just a remarkable run."
One that concluded during a forgettable week for Cleveland's rotation.
Over the past seven games, Indians starters have gone 0-5 with a 9.61 ERA, giving up 40 runs (37 earned) over 34 2/3 innings. Along with Tomlin (12-7), right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Zach McAllister and lefty David Huff also had starts consisting of fewer than five innings. It was a stunning stretch for a rotation that has been a team strength all year.
"I don't think I've seen that the whole year," Acta said. "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."
Acta then paused.
"Wrong time," he added.
Mariners starter Felix Hernandez (12-11) earned the win after limiting the Indians to two runs on seven hits over six innings, during which he amassed 10 strikeouts. Cleveland's lineup, while extremely depleted, struck out 16 times in the contest to increase the club's AL-leading total to 985.
"It's unacceptable," Acta said. "Especially when you don't have a team loaded with sluggers."
Seattle's offense produced like one filled with sluggers.
Over the four-game series in Cleveland, the Mariners scored 29 runs on 51 hits. Rookie third baseman Kyle Seager led the charge with a 10-for-13 showing that included five doubles (three in a 4-for-4 outpouring on Wednesday) and one home run.
"This is definitely probably the best 24 hours I've had in a while," Seager said.
The Indians were 4-0 against the Mariners (56-73) going into this series. But while this Seattle club still wears the same uniforms, it is hardly the same cast of characters. It is the type of young group that can cause all kinds of problems for contending teams late in a season.
"It's a completely different team," said Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan, who was in the Mariners organization last season. "A lot of young guys are getting an opportunity to show what they can do. It's almost like a tryout over there."
The Tribe's roster has also changed since earlier this season, but not in the way the Indians would have hoped.
In his last at-bat on Tuesday night, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo tweaked his left side and back and was scratched from the lineup on Wednesday. Choo joined a list of walking wounded that includes regulars such as Grady Sizemore (right knee), Michael Brantley (right wrist), Travis Hafner (right foot) and Jason Kipnis (right hamstring).
Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana also left Wednesday's game in the ninth inning after being struck in the mask by a hard foul ball. Asdrubal Cabrera was out of the lineup as well, though it was a scheduled day off for the shortstop. Santana and Cabrera should be back in the order Friday. Choo hopes to be there, too.
There is no denying, however, that the rash of health issues have contributed to the Tribe's tumble down the AL Central standings.
"So many guys have injuries," Choo said. "I talked earlier in Spring Training; I said injuries were the biggest thing. Slump or not, if everybody is in the lineup, it's a different game, a different situation. But Grady's not here. Hafner. Brantley. That happens in baseball."
The Indians are hardly ready to concede the season, though.
"We're still going," Choo said. "Tough. It's tough. But we're still going."