NEW YORK -- The Indians believe there is hope to be found within the ballclub's current struggles. The inconsistency of the past three months is, in fact, the reason that Cleveland believes it can continue to contend for a postseason spot.
The Tribe has yet to play to its potential, but that reality has not stopped the team from sitting within flirting distance of first place in the American League Central. Prior to Cleveland's 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night, the team's fourth defeat in a row, general manager Chris Antonetti maintained optimism for the months ahead.
"We're competitive despite not playing our best baseball," Antonetti said. "I think there's still a lot of potential with this team to play better than it's played over the first couple months of the season."
Antonetti stressed that the front office is working tirelessly behind the scenes in an effort to examine both internal and external alternatives to the roster in place. He added that the Indians' coaching staff is also diligently dealing with the individual struggles of key players currently with the big league club.
After the Tribe's latest loss -- the second series defeat in a row to begin this three-city trip -- the team slipped to 1 1/2 games behind the first-place White Sox in the division. A year ago on the same date, Cleveland was one game out of first and in the early stages of a season-ending tailspin.
Antonetti firmly believes the current roster can avoid a similar fate.
"Not playing the way we've played," Antonetti said. "But I still think we have a lot of talent on the roster and enough talent to stay competitive in the division. But we need to play better than we've played."
The current road trip through Houston, New York and Baltimore is an example of some issues Cleveland (37-36) needs to overcome. The offense has labored, producing only nine runs in the first five games of the 10-game trek. Four of those runs came during a desperate push in the ninth inning on Tuesday night against the Yankees (45-28).
In the final inning in the Bronx, Jason Kipnis doubled and later scored on a single by Johnny Damon. Jose Lopez -- filling in for Jack Hannahan, who was ejected earlier in the game -- then drilled a three-run home run off Yankees reliever Cory Wade. The rally fell short, but it helped lift the Tribe's spirits.
"The team felt better after the last inning," Lopez said. "We've been struggling for a couple of games, but in the ninth inning, we showed up."
Prior to the Indians' 4-for-7 showing in that inning, they had hit at a .174 (26-for-149) clip over their previous 44 innings across the last five games. Even if you include the outburst in the ninth, Cleveland has hit just .147 (5-for-34) with runners in scoring position over that same span of games.
Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes (8-6) was the latest pitcher to toy with the Tribe's lineup. Over eight stellar innings, Hughes scattered six hits and held the Indians hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Cleveland put the leadoff hitter aboard in four innings against Hughes and came away empty-handed at each turn.
A controversial call involving Hannahan helped New York's cause.
With two outs and Michael Brantley on third base in the seventh inning, Hannahan sliced a pitch from Hughes down the left-field line, where it carried into foul ground. Yankees left fielder Dewayne Wise chased down the ball and tumbled over a side wall into the stands on a spectacular catch attempt.
Third-base umpire Mike DiMuro ruled that Wise made the catch, but replays clearly showed the the ball was dropped as the outfielder lunged over the wall. A fan in a red shirt could even been seen holding the ball in the air in celebration of getting a souvenir. After checking the replay, Hannahan took the field, argued with DiMuro and was ejected from the contest.
"I can live with the fact that [DiMuro] didn't see him drop the ball," Hannahan said, "or the fan jumping up two feet away that was excited he got the foul ball. But for him not to just ask [Wise] to see the ball, that's absolutely inexcusable, and it's frustrating."
DiMuro explained his take to a pool reporter after the game.
"I believed the ball was in his glove when he came out of the stands," DiMuro said. "Now that I see the tape, it's obvious that the ball fell out of his glove. In hindsight, I should have asked him to show me the ball, since he fell into the stands and out of my line of vision."
Hannahan also charged DiMuro with missing a critical call in the second inning. With two outs and runners on the corners, Yankees catcher Chris Stewart sent a pitch from Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson down the third-base line. Hannahan dove to his right, and the ball skipped off his glove and into foul territory.
"It was foul," Hannahan said. "You could see where I slid. Calls like that happen so quick."
The play resulted in the first run of the game for the Yankees, who took a 3-0 lead later in the inning on a two-run single from Curtis Granderson. In all, Masterson (4-7) allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings.
"We went out there and more or less pitched the way we wanted to," Masterson said. "It wasn't the best control today, but we were able to make pitches. We had a lot of missed-hit balls, not real comfortable swings, which is exactly what you want. Somehow, four runs got on the board."
New York added a pair of runs (Alex Rodriguez belted a solo homer off Tony Sipp in the seventh) against the Tribe's bullpen.
If the Indians are going to remain in contention, it will most likely need to be the current group of players who shoulder the load.
"We're not going to make nine trades," Antonetti said. "And we're not calling up nine guys from [Triple-A] Columbus. That's not the way it works. I continue to believe in the guys that are here."