DETROIT -- Near the end of last season, when the Indians were fighting to remain in the hunt for an American League Wild Card spot, Michael Bourn stood at his locker in Cleveland and discussed why the club's back was up against the wall. The veteran said it stemmed in part from the Tribe's slow start in April.
"I just think that we have to win early," Bourn said at the time. "You don't want to put yourself in that situation."
As the Indians approach the end of this April, they find themselves in that situation once again.
On Sunday afternoon, an abbreviated outing from Carlos Carrasco and a too-little-too-late offensive effort sent Cleveland to an 8-6 defeat at the hands of the rival Tigers. Detroit took two of three in the series at Comerica Park, dropping the Tribe's record to 1-5 this season against a team that has held the keys to the AL Central for the past four years.
The Indians wrapped up their three-city divisional trek through Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit with a 3-6 record and -- with the loss to Tigers southpaw Kyle Lobstein on Sunday -- the club slipped to 1-6 against left-handed starters this season. No single aspect of the roster has been at fault. There have been lapses by the rotation, offense, defense and bullpen.
Simply put, Cleveland has yet to live up to expectations. And it feels a lot last last season.
"It's early, but we can't say that forever," Indians outfielder David Murphy said. "We don't want to be in a situation that we were last September. And, you don't want to have to think back to April and think, 'Well, if we just would've picked up this win here or there.' There's definitely a sense of urgency."
The Indians went 11-17 in April last season, finishing the month in fifth place in the Central and 5 1/2 games back of first. When the season ended, the Tribe had 85 victories, but it ended in third place -- three games back of a Wild Card spot. After Sunday's loss, Cleveland is now 6-11 this April, in fifth place in the division and currently facing a six-game deficit in the standings.
This is where it is fair to point out that only five of Cleveland's 17 games to date have come in the comfort of their home, Progressive Field. Then again, three of those games were claimed by the Tigers in a sweep in Cleveland from April 10-12. Since winning their season-opening series in Houston, the Tribe has four series losses and one split.
"We've just got to find a way to get rolling," said Murphy, who hit a pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning. "We need to get going. We need to start reeling off some wins."
What hurt the Tribe out of the gates on Sunday was that Carrasco allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base, leading to a two-run inning that put the Indians in a swift hole. The big right-hander had yielded only three runs on the season heading into his start against the Tigers, but he was on the hook for five runs on nine hits in only 4 1/3 innings in this loss.
"I learned something from today," Carrasco said. "I don't know when we're going to play them again, but I have something in mind for next time."
Four of Cleveland's six runs on Sunday came in the final three innings, but it was not enough. For the nine-game road trip, the Indians averaged 4.1 runs per game, but that rate is inflated by the 13-1 rout that the Tribe enjoyed in the series opener on Friday in Motor City. The Indians averaged three runs per game in the other eight contests and hit just .219 (14-for-64) with runners in scoring position on the trip overall.
Murphy shook his head when asked if the Tigers were intimidating the Tribe.
"No," he said bluntly. "They obviously have as good of a heart of a lineup as any team in baseball. They obviously seem to play well against us. If they were intimidating, I don't think you would see the result that we saw on Friday night. It's just more of, I think they do a good job of getting an early lead."
And that has contributed to Cleveland's early-season slide in the standings.