MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians are not about to complain about the Wild Card format that has been in place for two seasons now. After all, thanks to the altered postseason alignment, Cleveland has a chance to take part in the October stage for the first time in six seasons.
"You know what?" Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I guess our hope would be that we get a chance to test it out."
That does not mean that the system is viewed as being free of flaws.
With two Wild Card spots in each league, there is more emphasis on winning a division title, and postseason chases have the potential to involve more teams deep into September. For the Wild Card teams, though, a 162-game schedule can come down to one make-or-break game.
That is where debate comes into play.
"If you win 93 or 94 games, and then you have to bank on this one game, it is hard," said Michael Bourn, who played in the National League Wild Card Game with the Braves last fall. "It's tough. But that's how they made it. There's no way around it. You can't change the rules. You can sit here and talk until youre blue in the face about it, but you're still going to have to play the game."
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti's club lost 94 games last season, falling considerably short of expectations. One year later, Cleveland had 88 wins heading into Thursday's action and sat one game ahead of the Rangers for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
"It creates a lot of drama for the sport. It creates great entertainment," Antonetti said. "And it places a higher premium on winning the division. But, I still think, in my personal opinion, I'd prefer there be more than one game."
Both Francona and Antonetti floated the idea of a three-game series for the Wild Card teams. Antonetti also suggested a format that could include a best-of-three set that begins with a doubleheader in one city, allowing the series to only run two days.
"But, I recognize the challenge of the schedule and how difficult it is," Antonetti said.
Brantley's bat red-hot at just the right time for Tribe
MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Brantley was in the Indians' batting cage a few days ago when he spotted one of Carlos Santana's abandoned bats. Cleveland's left fielder picked it up, took a few swings and decided it felt good enough to use in a few games.
With his showing in Thursday's 6-5 win over the Twins, Brantley now has four consecutive games with three hits for the Indians.
Was Brantley about to credit the bat?
"Absolutely not," Brantley said with a laugh. "I just picked it up. It felt good in my hands. It was just sitting there. So I started swinging it and I said, 'Oh, that feels good, I'll start using it.' Sometimes you've just got to try it out. Every now and then you need a change."
Over his past 10 games, Brantley is batting .500 (20-for-40) with two home runs, six runs scored and 10 RBIs. His streak of four straight games with at least three hits and one RBI is only the fourth of its kind by an Indians hitter, dating back to 1916. The only other Cleveland batters to accomplish the feat are Minnie Minoso (1959), Ken Keltner (1939) and Joe Vosmik (1935).
After going 3-for-5 against Minnesota, Brantley was batting .289 with 10 home runs and 72 RBIs through 148 games.
"The balls that I'm hitting hard are finding holes," Brantley said of his hot streak. "And the balls I'm hitting OK are still finding a hole. It's just good placement, along with good hitting. Any time that happens, it's going to be successful for anybody."
Brantley is just pleased he has warmed up offensively right now -- similar to Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera -- while the Indians are trying to lock down one of the American League's two Wild Card spots.
"It's awesome, because that's what we neeeded to do," Brantley said. "We all talked about it. It was time to step up and make sure that we handled our business, especially at home. Now that we're here in Minnesota, it's just take one game at a time. We're all pulling on the same rope. We're all backing each other up."
Bourn rests sprained wrist for second straight game
MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians center fielder Michael Bourn sat in front of his locker inside the visitors' clubhouse at Target Field on Thursday afternoon, his right wrist wrapped and his name absent from Cleveland's starting lineup.
For the second consecutive game, Bourn was sidelined with the sprained wrist he suffered while sliding into second base in the fifth inning of Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the White Sox. He indicated that he was feeling better but was not sure if he would be back in the lineup Friday.
"It's possible, but we'll see," Bourn said. "I'm day to day. If you see me come out [of a game], then you know something's wrong, for the most part."
Bourn had yet to test his ailing wrist with any throwing or hitting, but Indians manager Terry Francona noted that Bourn was available off the bench as a pinch-runner for the opener of this four-game series against the Twins. Francona added that Cleveland would run Bourn through a series of tests prior to Friday's game to gauge his recovery.
"Depending on how he shows up [Friday]," Francona said, "we'll see how aggressive we can get with him. It could range anywhere from playing the game to 'we'll see.'"
Through 128 games, Bourn has hit .260 with six home runs, 23 stolen bases, 32 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs and 73 runs scored for the Indians.
With Bourn out of the mix Thursday night, Francona moved left fielder Michael Brantley into the leadoff spot for the Tribe. Cleveland's regular right fielder, Drew Stubbs, shifted to center field and utility man Ryan Raburn got the nod in right.
Francona said it is times like these that he feels fortunate to have a versatile and productive bench.
"That's how it's been most of the time this year," Francona said. "I've always felt like, whenever something happened -- because we have Raburn, [Mike] Aviles, [Yan] Gomes -- not that you ever want guys to get hurt, but those guys are always sitting there waiting to play, and they're ready to play."
Quote to note
"I know they're our chief competitor in our division, but I'm very fond of him. You could see by his emotions how much he cares. That was kind of neat to see."
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on Tigers manager Jim Leyland winning the American League Central title
• It was announced on Thursday that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will retire from his position in January 2015. Indians manager Terry Francona always has spoken kindly of Selig, whose history with Francona and his father, Tito, goes back to their Milwaukee days. Tito Francona played in Milwaukee in 1970 and Terry suited up for the Brewers in 1989-90.
"Because me and my dad both played for him," Francona said, "I think he's always felt a little bit of a kinship. When you're in a job like that, you're going to get some criticism, and he's overseen some tough things in our game. But I've been around him enough to know that if you spend 30 seconds with him, [you can see] how much he loves the game.
"I admire that a lot in him. I respect him a great deal. I think he's just a really nice guy. I think he really cares about the game."
• Right-hander Justin Masterson, who strained his left oblique on Sept. 2, returned to the mound with one shutout inning of relief with two strikeouts and a groundout in Wednesday's 7-2 win over the White Sox. Francona said Masterson was not available to pitch Thursday but could resume his relief role as soon as Friday in Minnesota.
"We were trying to accomplish a few things at once," Francona said of using Masterson on Thursday. "Win, and get him back acclimated so he can be a weapon for us. I thought he had life on his fastball, and I thought his slider was really good."
• MLB made a scoring change for the Indians' 7-1 loss to the Royals on Sept. 16. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Cleveland third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was initially given an error for mishandling a grounder from Emilio Bonifacio. That has been changed to an RBI single for Bonifacio, though Indians reliever Matt Albers is still credited with an unearned run.