PHILADELPHIA – The Braves have won the last 21 games that Kris Medlen has started, so it should come as no surprise they plan to start him in the Oct. 5 Wild Card game that’ll determine which National League wild-card team advances to a division series.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez announced Saturday he had adjusted his starting rotation for next week in order to line up Medlen to pitch in the Wild Card game and veteran Tim Hudson in the Oct. 7 division series opener. Gonzalez flip-flopped Medlen and Paul Maholm’s next rotation turns, with Medlen moving from Wednesday to Tuesday, in order to get Medlen on schedule to pitch Oct. 5 on regular rest.
“It lines up two possibilities for that play-in game, depending on how we get there and what we need to do,” Gonzalez said. “If something happens or [Medlen] gets sick, Huddy is also available to pitch that day. We could bump [Hudson] back a little bit, cut him back a little bit and he could still be able to pitch that day.”
The Braves’ spot in the wild-card game seemed nearly certain entering the weekend. With only 11 games to play before Saturday, Atlanta was too far back (5-1/2 games) of Washington to realistically expect to tie or overtake the Nationals in the NL East, while the Braves had a six-game lead over St. Louis, the second-place team in the NL wild-card standings.
After the Braves won Saturday and Milwaukee lost, the Braves’ magic number to clinch a wild-card berth is down to three entering Sunday’s games, and to clinch the No. 1 wild-card spot (and home field) it’s down to five.
If they need to make an adjustment and have Medlen or Hudson ready to start a potential Oct. 4 tiebreaker game against the Nationals, the Braves could do that next week. But due to the great improbability of that development, Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell laid out their pitching plans with the wild-card scenario as the focus.
“I don’t think it’s any secret, Medlen’s been our best pitcher for a month or two now,” Hudson said. “He’s a guy we’re going to lean on. We’ve been leaning on him for a while now. I feel like we have guys that can step in and pitch. But obviously games like that, you want your best guys ready to go. He’s been not only one of our best pitchers, but one of the best pitchers in the game the last month and a half.”
Medlen is 8-0 with a 0.76 ERA in 10 starts since moving from the bullpen to the Braves rotation on July 31, including eight scoreless innings in a win at Miami on Wednesday. After winning the National League Pitcher of the Month award in August, he is 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA in four September starts, with 34 strikeouts and only four walks in 28 innings.
Gonzalez arranged the rotation with the wild-card game and division series in mind, but by coincidence the move also sets up Medlen to pitch Sept. 30 against New York in the Braves’ last regular-season home game and the last regular-season home game of Chipper Jones’ career.
Provided the Braves retain their position as the NL wild-card team with the best record, they would host the Oct. 5 Wild Card game against the second-place team in the wild-card standings. St. Louis was second before Saturday, but Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia were all within three games of the Cardinals, with the Brewers and Phillies both on torrid stretches over the past few weeks.
Lining up Medlen to start in the do-or-die game was no surprise to the Braves, who’ve watched him become one of baseball’s big stories by utterly dominating opposing lineups since moving from the bullpen to the rotation on July 31.
“I like it,” Braves catcher David Ross said. “You’ve got Medlen, who’s pitching as well as anybody in baseball. And you’ve got Huddy, who I think anybody would take in a one-game situation, too. So it lines up really good, and I think if we do win that wild-card game it lines up Med to pitch the first game on the road [in the division series], which works out.
“I think it’s really important to have a guy who’s pitching well pitch the first game on the road where it’ll be a crazy atmosphere. And then Huddy for the last game [of the division series. And Huddy’s got some of the biggest … guts, I guess you’d say, for the paper, of anybody I’ve ever played with.”
Medlen is 13-0 in 24 starts since the beginning of the 2010 season, and 14-0 with a 2.68 ERA in 26 starts dating to May 31, 2009, his third major league game.
The Braves have won the last 21 games started by Medlen going back to 2009. The last time a team won that many starts in a row by one pitcher was nearly six decades ago, when the Yankees won 22 starts during 1950 and 1953 by Whitey Ford, who missed the two seasons between while serving in the military.
BRAVES SUNDAY LINEUP
• Chipper Jones’ Farewell Tour: The Phillies honored the Braves’ retiring third baseman in an on-field ceremony before Friday’s game, and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley presented a painting of Jones swinging a bat in a game at Citizens Bank Park. The painting was by Philadelphia artist Dick Perez, who has many paintings in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For those who’ve asked, I put together a list of all the gifts and tributes that Chipper’s received this season in his last stop at cities throughout the major leagues.
Chipper Jones Farewell Tour
HOUSTON ASTROS: Stetson cowboy hat presented by retired former Astros star Craig Biggio.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: Video tribute on scoreboard between innings.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Video tribute on scoreboard between innings.
COLORADO ROCKIES: Miniature video camera (suitable for mounting on bow for filming hunting excursions), presented by Rockies star Todd Helton.
CHICAGO CUBS: Braves flag that flew over Wrigley Field when team was in town to play Cubs.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: Framed, autographed Stan Musial jersey and a picture of Chipper playing in St. Louis autographed by the Cardinals, presented by former Braves and current Cardinals Rafael Furcal and Adam Wainwright.
TAMPA BAY RAYS: Video tribute on scoreboard between innings.
CINCINNATI REDS: Third base from his last series at Cincinnati. All the bases for the series had specially designed panels on sides in recognition of Jones’ career.
NEW YORK YANKEES: Framed third base from Jones’ last series at Yankee Stadium, presented by Derek Jeter and Andruw Jones.
BOSTON RED SOX: No. 10 from hand-operated Green Monster scoreboard at Fenway Park, presented by Red Sox owner John Henry.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Third base from final series, signed by Washington team; bat used by Jones to hit first-ever homer at Nationals Park, and framed photo of Jones with former Braves teammates and close friends Adam LaRoche and Mark DeRosa of the Nationals, presented by LaRoche and DeRosa.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: Pregame video tribute on scoreboard.
SAN DIEGO PADRES: Custom-designed surfboard presented by retired former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman.
NEW YORK METS: Original framed 3-D pop-art piece of Shea Stadium that highlighted Jones’ many career highlights at the old Mets ballpark.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS: One-year supply of Klemen’s sausages and bratwursts and a Weber grill.
MIAMI MARLINS: Fly-fishing rod and reel and other fly-fishing gear, presented by Marlins (and ex-Mets) shortstop Jose Reyes.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Painting of Jones taking a swing in Philadelphia, presented by Phillies Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES: TBA (next week)
• OK, let’s close this with a Tom Waits classic, and you can see the live version of it here from the movie Big Time.
“TRAIN SONG” by Tom Waits
Well I broke down in E. St. Louis
On the Kansas City line
and I drunk up all my money
that I borrowed every time
and I fell down at the derby
and now the night’s black as a crow
It was a train that took me away from here
but a train can’t bring me home
What made my dreams so hollow
was standing at the depot
with a steeple full of swallows
that could never ring the bell
and I come ten thousand miles away
with not one thing to show
well it was a train that took me away from here
but a train can’t bring me home
I remember when I left
without bothering to pack
you know I up and left with
just the clothes I had on my back
now I’m sorry for what I’ve done
and I’m out here on my own
well it was a train that took me away from
here but a train can’t bring me home
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog