CLEVELAND — The Indians began the week with improbable odds of making the playoffs.
They're now nearly impossible.
"We didn't win," manager Terry Francona said, "which we set out to do."
Danny Salazar fell apart following a strong first two innings and Cleveland's offense sputtered again in a 7-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals, dropping the Indians 4 1/2 games behind the Royals in a wild-card race that's all but over.
With only four games left, the Indians need help. So far, they haven't helped themselves.
"It's bad, terrible," said Salazar, who struck out six of the first eight batters he faced before crumbling. "Everybody is going out there and trying to do their best. It's just gone a different way than we want."
Rookie Yordano Ventura (14-10) blanked Cleveland's punchless offense for seven innings as the Royals kept pressure on first-place Detroit in the AL Central. The hard-throwing Ventura allowed five hits and threw a 100 mph fastball on his 104th pitch as the Royals stayed one game back in the division.
Ventura overpowered the Indians, and that hasn't been hard to do lately.
"He's got some of the best arm speed you'll ever see," Francona said of Ventura, now 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in five career starts against Cleveland. "We made him work, we just didn't have anything to show for it. It's frustrating."
Salazar was confusing.
The right-hander, who sustained an unspecified hand injury on the team's recent road trip, was dominant in the early going. He had six strikeouts through two innings with each whiff coming on a wicked change-up that badly fooled the Royals.
Salazar escaped a threat in the third, but he wasn't so fortunate in the fourth, when he walked Billy Butler and gave up a single to Alex Gordon before Omar Infante pulled a two-run double into the left-field corner.
The Royals scored three more runs in the fifth. Salazar got two quick outs before Eric Hosmer doubled and scored on Butler's double. Gordon was walked intentionally and Salvador Perez drove in two with his shot to left-center, the ball just clearing lunging left fielder Michael Brantley's glove.
Salazar's outing was perplexing to Francona.
"He came out of the shoot working ahead, throwing a good fastball and probably the best change-up we've seen, and then all of a sudden it was like a switch," Francona said. "His pitches were up, the tempo on his delivery slowed down a little bit and his fastball started leaking back over the plate and it was up.
"It was almost like two different pitchers and a lot of it happened with two outs and nobody on."
Francona isn't ready to give up on a season where the Indians have gotten unexpected starting pitching and solid relief but have struggled to score.
"The only thing we can do now is play tomorrow and try to win," Francona said.
Cleveland's offense went into a funk at the worst time possible. The Indians scored their only run in the eighth, ending a string of 19 straight scoreless innings.
The Indians' bullpen has never been busier. No team's has. With Scott Atchison making his 70th appearance, the Indians became the first team in AL history to have four pitchers with at least 70 outings in one season. He joins Bryan Shaw (77), Cody Allen (74) and Marc Rzepczynski (71).
SORRY, GUYS: RHP Carlos Carrasco apologized for criticizing his defense for not making two plays in Monday's 2-0 loss. Carrasco felt 1B Chris Gimenez and SS Jose Ramirez both should have done better on hard-hit balls. Carrasco issued a public apology, which was distributed by the team and he personally told Gimenez he was sorry.
OF Michael Brantley needs four hits to reach 200 and three RBIs to get 100. The Indians haven't had a player with 200 hits and 100 RBIs since Joe Carter in 1986.
Indians: OF David Murphy has been limited to spot duty against right-handers as he deals with a nagging abdominal injury that landed him on the disabled list in August. Francona said Murphy isn't 100 percent and that he's trying to "be respectful of him" by not playing him too much.
LHP Jason Vargas (11-10), who has recorded the AL's third-lowest ERA (2.42) on the road, starts the series finale for the Royals, who oddly lost as the home team on Monday when they dropped a suspended game. Trevor Bauer (5-8) goes for the Indians, who have lost each of his past four starts after winning four in a row and five of six.
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