Win and you're in.
That's the situation facing the Indians, and they're making the most of it. Cleveland pulled out its seventh straight victory in Thursday's series opener against the Twins and goes into Friday night's game at Target Field with a one-game lead over the Rangers for the second American League Wild Card spot. With three games to go, the Tribe simply needs to take care of business.
As veteran Jason Giambi said on Wednesday: "We don't have to scoreboard watch. We don't have to do anything but go play baseball."
The Indians are still chasing the Rays for the top Wild Card berth, which would provide home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. They are one game behind Tampa Bay, which also has won seven in a row.
The Twins, on the other hand, have dropped three in a row and are mired in a 5-17 skid as they try to play spoiler. They almost did so on Thursday, scoring four runs in the ninth inning and putting the tying and winning runs on base before falling, 6-5.
"We're playing a team in the pennant race here," manager Ron Gardenhire said before Thursday's game. "They're one game up. So there's going to be a lot of intensity coming from their dugout. Hopefully we can join in with it. There's a lot to play for because all of baseball is watching this series. I'm hoping our guys are going to want to get after it and play the game the right way and give these guys a run for their money and make them earn it."
Gardenhire will turn to left-hander Pedro Hernandez (3-2, 6.05 ERA) on Friday against the Indians' Corey Kluber (10-5, 3.61).
Hernandez joined the rotation in September with a chance to pitch his way toward a starting spot next season, but things have not gone according to plan. The 24-year-old has a 7.13 ERA in four outings this month, giving up 26 hits and six walks while striking out nine in 17 2/3 innings. On Saturday, a five-run second-inning chased him from a start against the A's.
"They made an adjustment to me in the second inning, and for that reason I gave up a lot of hits," Hernandez said.
Kluber, on the other hand, is 3-0 with a 4.05 ERA in four September starts after missing about a month with a right middle finger sprain. The Indians have won all four of those outings, including on Sunday against the Astros, when the righty gave up two runs over 5 1/3 innings.
"I still think he's not in midseason form as far as his command," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But he still competes. You saw what he gave us. I just think he's still kind of clawing his way back."
Indians: Bourn questionable for return
Center fielder Michael Bourn missed his second straight game on Thursday with a sprained right wrist and was not certain if he would be able to play on Friday. Bourn, who hurt himself sliding into second base on Tuesday, called himself "day to day."
Francona said Bourn was available to pinch-run in the series opener against the Twins, but he had not tried to throw or hit. Bourn will undergo a series of tests Friday before a decision is made on his status.
• Left fielder Michael Brantley is 20-for-40 with two home runs and 10 RBIs over his past 10 games. He's only the fifth player since 2000 to put together four straight games with at least three hits and one RBI.
Twins: Arcia getting close
Outfielder Oswaldo Arcia hasn't started since a 3-for-4 game on Sunday at Oakland after suffering a bruised right knee during batting practice Monday. However, the 22-year-old is making progress.
Arcia pinch-hit in Thursday's ninth inning and struck out on three pitches to end the game. He is expected to return to the lineup during this series.
• Kluber has a 3.31 ERA in three starts against the Twins this season.
• Hernandez has allowed seven runs over 10 1/3 innings against the Indians, with 10 walks and four strikeouts.