CHICAGO -- The Indians will argue that they have not been eliminated from the postseason, and the team would not be wrong in terms of pure mathematics. Corks have yet to pop and champagne has yet to flow in this American League Central race.
The reality for the Indians is that they are now likely facing a fight to the finish with the White Sox for the rights to second place. On Thursday, the consolation battle continued with Cleveland on the wrong end of an 8-1 rout against Chicago on a rainy evening at U.S. Cellular Field.
Over the course of 21 days, the Indians have spiraled to 10 games behind the the division-leading Tigers after being within 1 1/2 games of the Central's top spot. Cleveland (70-71) has lost six of its past eight games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of Detroit prior to opening this weekend set in Chicago on a sour note.
Right now, the Tribe's focus is simply on regaining its footing.
"We're going to have to get ready," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "and try to win a ballgame before we even think about chasing any of the teams in front of us."
Suddenly, one of those teams is the White Sox (72-70), who seemed a safe bet to finish behind the Indians earlier this season. After pouncing on the Indians' bullpen for seven runs in the seventh inning, Chicago ran its record to 8-3 against the Tribe. Now, Cleveland sits 1 1/2 games back of the White Sox and in third place.
The Indians' undoing in their latest lapse came courtesy of the seventh-inning explosion for the White Sox, spoiling a solid effort from Tribe lefty David Huff. With the game caught in a 1-1 tie in the seventh, and runners on first and second with one out, Acta summoned Indians righty Frank Herrmann from the bullpen.
Under normal circumstances, Acta might have turned to a reliever more accustomed to working in such a situation, but Cleveland's bullpen had been taxed in its previous two series. That is why the manager called upon Herrmann, and later rookie Josh Judy, even though they are not typically late-inning options.
"Our main guys have pitched three out of the last four days," Acta explained. "We needed these guys to come in and keep the game close. Unfortunately, we couldn't do it."
Herrmann promptly yielded Brent Morel's second home run of the game -- a three-run blast off a first-pitch heater that pushed Cleveland behind, 4-1.
"Fastball is my best pitch," Herrmann said. "I'm usually going to live and die with it. I think he knew that. He was obviously swinging early if he got on top of a 95-mph [fastball] up. I've got to get that pitch down and give our defense a chance to make a play on it.
"I certainly can't groove one down the middle like I did. I wish I could have that one back."
Herrmann then walked Gordon Beckham and gave up a single to Juan Pierre before being pulled in favor of Judy, who spent most of this season serving as a closer for Triple-A Columbus. The rookie reliever hit Brent Lillibridge with a pitch, fracturing the first baseman's right hand, before surrendering a grand slam to Paul Konerko.
"It's my first time around," Judy said. "Lesson learned. You can't make mistakes. Good hitters are going to hit mistakes."
It was a swift outpouring of offense that wasted a decent outing from Huff (2-4). Over 6 1/3 innings, the left-hander struck out five and was charged with three runs (two on the homer allowed by Herrmann) on five hits. Instead of walking away with a no-decision, Chicago's pounding of the Tribe's bullpen hung Huff with a hard-luck loss.
Huff was not about to fault the pitchers who came in behind him.
The lefty even made a point to offer some encouraging words to Herrmann after the reliever gave up the game's decisive blast.
"It happens. That's part of baseball," Huff said. "It just happens. You leave a ball up, these guys hit it out. I told him to keep his head up."
White Sox starter Gavin Floyd picked up a no-decision after holding the Indians' offense to one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings of work. Cleveland's lone breakthrough against the right-hander came in the first inning, when Asdrubal Cabrera singled, stole second base and then scored on a single by Jim Thome.
"Then they shut us down for the next eight innings," Acta said.
It was a frustrating day within a discouraging week for the Indians.
No one felt worse about the way the night went than the relievers.
"I take all the blame," Herrmann said. "For Dave's sake, and the team, everybody, I wanted to come in there and get a double play or get out of the inning for us. I thought Huff pitched great. He definitely deserved a better fate."
Judy echoed that sentiment.
"He pitched [well] today," said Judy. "We weren't able to come up big for him and get him a win. It's unacceptable for me to go in there and do something like that."
And now, the goal for the Indians seems simple.
"We're trying to get our legs back under us," Herrmann said. "Get back on track."