ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians are sinking fast in the AL Central.
Sunday's 4-3 loss to Baltimore was Cleveland's fourth straight and dropped the Indians below the .500 mark for the first time since they were 3-4 on April 14.
The Indians, who have lost seven of nine, are 4 1/2 games behind Detroit in the Central, their biggest deficit of the season.
Even a ninth-inning rally couldn't save the Indians from their latest loss. Carlos Santana's two-run homer and an RBI single by pinch-hitter Travis Hafner cut the lead to one, but Asdrubal Cabrera struck out against closer Jim Johnson with two on to end the game.
Manager Manny Acta is trying to look on the positive side despite the circumstances.
"The sun is going to come up tomorrow," he said. "You have to take it one game at a time. We still have over 60 games to go. Things can change in a heartbeat. Every day is a new day."
The Indians hope to avoid a four-game sweep today before the red-hot Detroit Tigers come to town Tuesday.
"Tomorrow is a big game," outfielder Shelley Duncan said. "It's probably the biggest game of the year for us. The next three games after that, each one is going to be the biggest game of the year for us."
Cleveland's hitting problems have reached alarming stages. In 10 games since the All-Star break, the Indians have been shut out twice and have scored three runs or less in eight games. Except for a 10-6 win over Tampa Bay and an 11-9 loss at Toronto, the Indians have totaled 12 runs in their other eight games.
Zach Britton, making only his second start of the season, and two relievers held Cleveland in check for eight innings. The Indians managed six hits, one a ground ball by Santana in the second that bounced off Britton and another a bunt single by Jason Kipnis in the sixth.
Santana, who struck out with the bases loaded to end the sixth, hit a two-run homer off Luis Ayala with one out in the ninth. Duncan doubled off Johnson and scored on Hafner's single.
After Johnny Damon flied out, Shin Soo-Choo walked on four pitches. Cabrera worked the count to 2-2, but struck out swinging as Johnson recorded his 30th save.
"We continue to struggle offensively," Acta said. "Until the last inning, we weren't aggressive in the strike zone. It seemed like we had two strikes a lot. We didn't do much offensively until the end. It's really hard to come back against a closer and Johnson is a very good one."
"I didn't have a matchup I liked that whole inning," Johnson said. "I had to work around things. I pitched around Choo, then had to somehow go after Cabrera. I just had to make that one pitch to get out of it."
When Josh Tomlin (5-7) allowed J.J. Hardy's two-run homer in the first, the Indians were already in a hole that proved to be insurmountable.
"I made a mistake to Hardy and he took advantage of it," Tomlin said.
Tomlin settled in after a rocky first inning in which he made 28 pitches and gave up four hits. He allowed four hits over the next five scoreless innings and didn't walk a batter. He has issued only one base on balls over his last 21⅔ innings.
The Indians' best scoring chance in the first eight innings came in the sixth on two walks and an infield hit, but Santana struck out to end the inning.
Britton (1-0) gave up four hits in six shutout innings in his second start since being recalled from the minors. He struck out five and got 11 other outs on grounders.
NOTES: Cleveland fell to 10-18 against the AL East; Baltimore is 16-10 vs. the AL Central. ... Santana has reached base safely via a hit or a walk in 15 straight games and is hitting .292 with seven RBIs in July.