KANSAS CITY -- Indians manager Terry Francona did not like what he saw on Wednesday night. His defense made costly mistakes -- more than the error column will indicate -- and the Royals, as they have earned a reputation for doing, took full advantage.
The result was a crooked pitching line for starter Corey Kluber and a 9-4 loss to Kansas City that sent the Tribe back into a first-place tie atop the American League Central. Cleveland had a three-game lead on Kansas City entering this set at Kauffman Stadium, but is again neck and neck with the reigning champs, following a three-game brooming.
"We didn't play very well. I think that's on me," Francona said. "They weren't prepared to play tonight, and I guarantee you that'll change."
The latest defeat wrapped up a 10-game road trip through Seattle, Anaheim and Kansas City. The Indians posted a 4-6 mark through those cities, limping into Thursday's off-day. The long trip also concluded a stretch of 20 games in 20 days for Cleveland, which saw its offense sputter over the past week away from home.
Whether his team felt tired, or was already peeking ahead to the day off, Francona said there was no excuse.
"It doesn't matter. We've got a day off tomorrow," Francona said. "When you show up, when you've got a game, you play. We're not the first team to play 20 and we won't be the last. We just didn't play a very good ballgame."
The loss was hung on Kluber, who was charged with eight earned runs for only the second time in his Major League career. He allowed two on back-to-back doubles to Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain in the first, but settled down and sidestepped some defensive troubles through the next three shutout innings. Cleveland opened the second with two errors, for example, but Kluber retired the next three batters in order.
The woes behind Kluber caught up with Cleveland in the fifth. Drew Butera led off with a double that dropped between center fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. With two outs, third baseman Michael Martinez made a nice play to snare a grounder from Hosmer, but his throw across the diamond was off, and first baseman Mike Napoli could not pick it from the dirt.
Two batters later, Salvador Perez made the Tribe pay with a three-run home run to center field.
"It was hard. We really made it hard on him," Francona said. "Between making some errors, not making some plays, it's kind of hard. He was fighting for everything, and we were making it harder on him. That's tough."
Between the miscues on defense, and the low offensive output, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said this sweep was on the shoulders of the position players.
Cleveland scored seven runs and went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position in the three losses to Kansas City. On the 10-day trip, the Indians scored two runs or fewer four times and three runs or fewer in six games. When the Indians swept the Royals in a four-game home series from June 2-5 -- part of the six-game winning streak that pushed Cleveland into first place -- the lineup churned out 25 runs.
"We swept them at home, and they returned the favor," Kipnis said. "I thought this entire series was more on the position players. I think the pitching staff has done an outstanding job. ... We saw what we can be when we hit. That's how we got to be in first place. So, we're going to have to keep doing that if we want to get back there."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.