The Atlanta Braves juggled their rotation to have Kris Medlen in line to potentially start a one-game, wild-card playoff. The change also has resulted in him taking the mound at home in their first game with a chance to clinch a postseason berth.
That seems fitting considering he's a major reason they can wrap up a playoff spot as early as Tuesday night, when the Braves could tie a major league record by winning Medlen's 22nd consecutive start in a matchup with the Miami Marlins .
A year ago at this time, Atlanta was enduring one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, blowing an 8 1/2-game lead for the wild card during September to miss the playoffs. There has been no such free-fall this time, with the club winning 14 of 20 to cut its magic number for clinching a wild-card spot to one with nine games remaining.
The Braves (88-65) would punch their ticket to the postseason with a win Tuesday or if Milwaukee and Los Angeles both lose, and they still have a shot to catch Washington for the NL East crown.
"It's a good feeling," second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We're in a good spot to, at the very least, make the playoffs. We're not going to quit anything."
Maybe no player has been more important to Atlanta being in this position than Medlen (9-1, 1.51 ERA). He's gone 8-0 with a 0.76 ERA in 10 starts since joining the rotation July 31, walking nine and striking out 72 in 70 2-3 innings.
Atlanta has won his last 21 starts, a run that began May 29, 2010. The only longer streaks were Carl Hubbell 's 22 straight with the Giants bridging the 1936 and 1937 seasons, and the Yankees winning Whitey Ford 's first 22 starts from 1950 to 1953 - he missed two years to serve in the Korean War.
" Whitey Ford ? Pfft. Let's go. Come on. Don't even say it," said a humbled Medlen, who is 14-0 in 26 starts since losing the first two of his career in May 2009.
Medlen originally was slated to start Wednesday and Paul Maholm was to go Tuesday, but manager Fredi Gonzalez reversed that order so Medlen would be on regular rest for a possible one-game playoff Oct. 5. The right-hander last pitched Wednesday and won at Miami, throwing eight innings in a 3-0 victory.
"I think this kid is, 'Wow,'" Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He put on a show out there."
Craig Kimbrel has been just as dominant and is one shy of a second straight 40-save season. He's allowed one run over his last 20 1-3 innings, walking four and striking out 42.
While Atlanta's staff has a 2.45 ERA over the past 17 games while holding opponents to a .204 average, the offense has hit .235 and averaged 3.5 runs.
Quiet bats have plagued the Marlins (66-87), who have 12 homers over the last 23 games while going 7-16. They've lost four straight overall and six in a row on the road.
Nathan Eovaldi (4-12, 4.36) has received nine runs of support over his past five starts and is 0-4 in that span. He now faces the Braves for the second straight week, having gone eight scoreless innings in a 4-3, 10-inning victory last Tuesday.
"A very spectacular game for him," Guillen said. "No doubt this kid has a good arm."
However, Eovaldi was awful in his only game at Atlanta this year, giving up six runs in two innings of a 6-1 loss Aug. 2.
It might not help Eovaldi that two of Miami's top hitters could be out. Giancarlo Stanton (oblique), the team leader with 34 homers and 81 RBIs, has missed the last six games. Justin Ruggiano (shoulder), batting a team-best .313 since his call-up in late May, may sit out a third straight game.
Atlanta's Michael Bourn , the NL leader with 39 steals, may return after sitting out Sunday with a sore thumb.
|September 21, 2012||Justin Ruggiano||Day-to-Day||Sprained right shoulder|
|September 18, 2012||Giancarlo Stanton||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|September 14, 2012||Carlos Lee||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained neck|
|September 04, 2012||Heath Bell||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 22, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||60-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|August 13, 2012||Nick Green||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|September 18, 2012||Paul Janish||Day-to-Day||Shoulder|
|September 15, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hamstring tendinitis|
|August 25, 2012||Ben Sheets||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 25, 2012||Ben Sheets||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 10, 2012||Chipper Jones||Day-to-Day||Back tightness|
|August 01, 2012||Jair Jurrjens||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
ATLANTA (AP) -- This time, the Atlanta Braves held onto their big lead and locked up a playoff trip with plenty of time to spare.
It couldn't have felt any sweeter for retiring star Chipper Jones .
Freddie Freeman hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to put Atlanta back in the postseason with a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.
Freeman's dramatic drive off Mike Dunn clinched at least a National League wild-card berth for the Braves, who squandered a big lead in the wild-card race with a huge collapse last September.
"They took the attitude last year to try and hang on," Jones said. "This year we took the bull by the horns. We're shooting for the stars. We're still shooting for the division until they close us out."
Jones, who plans to retire at the end of the season, led off the ninth with a double. He moved to third on a wild pitch by Dunn (0-3) and stood on the bag with his right fist raised as Freeman's 22nd homer easily cleared the center-field wall.
"There was never any doubt," Jones said during the soggy clubhouse celebration. "We knew that last year was somewhat of a fluke."
Craig Kimbrel (3-1) worked a scoreless inning to help the Braves win their 22nd straight game started by Kris Medlen . The streak is the longest in the majors since the New York Yankees won 22 consecutive games started by Whitey Ford in 1950 and `53.
Last year's September flop was fresh on Medlen's mind.
"You can't really win consistently until you lose," Medlen said. "Losing's a big part of being able to win."
Returning to the postseason helps wipe away some of last season's frustration for the Braves, who blew an 8 1/2-game lead in the wild-card standings and finished September 9-18. They missed the playoffs after one of the biggest meltdowns in baseball history.
This year, Atlanta cruised most of the way and wrapped up a postseason spot with more than a week remaining in the regular season. And the Braves still have a chance to catch first-place Washington in the NL East. They moved within four games of the Nationals, who lost to Philadelphia 6-3, with eight to play.
"It makes it all worth it. I'm happier for these guys because they worked hard," Jones said.
While he was being interviewed on television, the 40-year-old slugger was doused with bubbly and beer by teammates in a jubilant clubhouse.
"I am so cold right now!" he said.
Four of the five NL playoff spots are secured. In addition to Atlanta, Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco have all punched their tickets to the postseason.
The second-place Braves have a comfortable cushion in the wild-card race, and St. Louis leads the chase for the league's second wild card.
The Braves will return to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Jones went 1 for 2 with two runs and a sacrifice fly that gave the Braves a 2-1 lead in the sixth. He is batting .296 and has 14 homers with 63 RBIs. His leadership has been unmistakable in a season that included a final All-Star appearance.
The Braves tied it 1-all in the second. Jones walked, moved to second on Freeman's single and scored from second on Dan Uggla 's single.
After Martin Prado 's two-out triple in the third, Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi struck out Heyward, but Heyward tripled with one out in the sixth and scored on Jones' sacrifice fly to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.
Freeman said he expected Jones to lead off the ninth with a hit.
"He's done it all year," the 23-year-old Freeman said. "That's what he's a Hall of Famer for. He got the rally started today."
Eovaldi was trying to win for the first time in six starts. He allowed four hits, two runs and two walks in six innings. He struck out eight.
A.J. Ramos got the first two outs for Miami in the seventh before Dan Jennings struck out pinch-hitter Jeff Baker with a runner on first. Heath Bell faced the minimum in the eighth for the Marlins, and Eric O'Flaherty did the same in the bottom half of the inning for Atlanta.
Donovan Solano hit his first career homer in the second to make it 1-0 and followed with a two-run shot in the seventh to make it 3-2.
"Yeah, I mean, we've lost a lot of games and to lose that game like that is heartbreaking," Dunn said, "especially with the way the team played today."
Medlen did not win for the first time in nine starts, allowing five hits, three runs, no walks and striking out eight. The right-hander began the game with a 15-0 record over his last 27 starts dating to May 31, 2009.
Those numbers were just a backdrop, though, to the bigger picture of Jones returning to the playoffs in his final season with Atlanta.
"We're not done yet," he said. "We've got one more step that we've got our eyes on."
NOTES: Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said MRI results on CF Michael Bourn 's left thumb revealed no structural damage. Gonzalez hopes Bourn can return to the lineup Wednesday. ... Reed Johnson started in CF and hit leadoff for Bourn. ... Gonzalez spoke with Jones before the game and both decided that the 3B wants to start the last six remaining regular-season home games. ... Jones' double gave him 2,724 hits to tie Roberto Alomar for 57th place on the career list - and for fifth among switch-hitters. ... Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said RF Giancarlo Stanton , who has missed the last six games with a sore left ribcage, is lobbying to return to the lineup soon. Stanton took batting practice before the game. ... The Marlins were waiting for MRI results on OF Justin Ruggiano , who's been out since last Friday with a right shoulder sprain. ... Atlanta SS Paul Janish is trying to rehab his left shoulder in hopes of returning for the division series next month if Atlanta is still playing.
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