CLEVELAND -- There is a risk involved in evaluating a team only a handful of games into a season. After baseball's long winter, and following the misleading nature of Spring Training, the results of the regular season's first few games are examined under a microscope.
Right now, things do not look pretty for the Indians.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cleveland's search party returned with the offense that had gone missing, but it did not matter in a 10-6 loss to the White Sox. The defense went awry at inopportune times, the bullpen labored to keep things close and the lineup -- resurgent as it was -- came up empty in a few critical moments.
When the smoke cleared, and the Tribe was headed for its charter flight to Kansas City for its first road trip of the season, the result was a disappointing homestand that left fans wondering if this club can contend in the American League Central. For now, the Indians will point out that it is far too early to react to statistics.
"Five games is not going to make me panic," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We have to give it a little more time. It's five games into it. In five more games, things can change again. Everybody goes through those periods -- those ups and downs -- and we're in it right now."
Cleveland (1-4) dropped two out of three games to the Blue Jays to open the homestand and was swept in this two-game set -- shortened after poor weather forced a postponement of Tuesday's tilt -- by the White Sox. As a team, the Indians hit .176 in the five contests, while receiving solid starting pitching for the most part.
Sinkerballer Justin Masterson followed up his steller Opening Day act (one run allowed over eight innings against Toronto) with a bumpy effort against Chicago (3-2). Fielding miscues by the typically surehanded duo of first baseman Casey Kotchman and third baseman Jack Hannahan did not help matters, contributing to the five runs (three earned) allowed over five frames by Masterson.
Masterson (0-1) believes people tend to overreact to early-season results.
"There's not anything else to work off of, so you've got to blow it our of proportion, right?" Masterson said with a laugh. "You guys tell me. You're the ones writing it. ... I think you can look at it as this will be the trend, or it's just an odd occurrence. Knowing the history of the individuals, it's like, 'Well, this is just an odd occurrence.'"
In the wake of their latest loss, the Indians were left scraping for the positives. At least -- for the first time this season -- it was the offense that seemed encouraging.
Cleveland set season highs with six runs and 10 hits, including one home run each for designated hitter Travis Hafner and left fielder Shelley Duncan. Hafner belted a solo shot off White Sox starter John Danks in the fourth inning as part of a three-RBI showing, and Duncan went 3-for-5 with a two-run blast off reliever Will Ohman in the seventh.
The Indians had other chances to break through for more runs, though. That was evident enough in the team's 1-for-11 showing with runners in scoring position and in the 11 runners stranded on the afternoon.
"Offensively," Duncan said, "I think we saw drastic improvements throughout the whole lineup with guys' swings. There were a couple times we left guys on base that could've been big innings for us, but offensively, I think we're taking the right steps."
Simply put, the White Sox did more damage at the plate.
In the first inning, Hannahan threw wide to first base on a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line off the bat of Brent Morel. That put runners on first and second base with no outs, and Adam Dunn made the Tribe pay with a run-scoring ground-ball single. Paul Konerko followed with a grounder down the third-base line that eluded Hannahan's reach and skipped into left field for an RBI double.
One wild pitch and a sacrifice fly later, and the Indians were in a 4-0 hole.
"I got what I wanted. They just didn't go exactly where I wanted them to go," said Masterson, referring to the ground balls. "You never assume that they'll find this hole, find this hole and then go to this hole and this hole. The ball's got to go to somebody some time."
In the fifth inning, Kotchman could not corral a low throw from shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on a one-out grounder from Morel. Konerko later came through with a run-scoring single to take advantage of that misstep. Chicago put the game away in the sixth, when Alejandro De Aza belted a two-run home run off Tribe reliever Dan Wheeler and A.J. Pierzynski added a three-run shot off Rafael Perez.
Cleveland did not have a miracle comeback in store this time. That led to the completion of a disheartening first homestand.
"It was very disappointing," Hafner said. "We wanted to get out of the chute well. We didn't do that. Overall, I thought we played pretty well. It's a matter of just getting a couple key hits here or there and we're probably sitting 3-2 or something like that."
Not that the Indians are looking back at what could have been.
"You've got to put it behind you. It's over with," Kotchman said. "There's nothing we can do about it. We've got to move forward and keep pressing forward toward the goal that we all have."