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.