Indians, Tigers hope weather cooperates for series finale
DETROIT -- The Cleveland Indians aren't interested in coasting to the finish line.
The American League Central Division champion Indians will wrap up their season series with the host Detroit Tigers on Thursday afternoon -- weather permitting -- before moving on to Kansas City to close out their regular season.
Detroit winds up in Atlanta, where it will continue its fight for a wild card playoff berth in a National League city. That means Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez will only be able to pinch-hit.
But typical Midwest autumn weather could mess things up.
Detroit and Cleveland managed to eke out five innings Wednesday night with the Tigers waiting 72 minutes to learn they had pulled out a 6-3 win thanks to Miguel Cabrera's three-run home run through a hard rain with one out in the fifth.
The weather forecast for Thursday's isn't much better.
"I've learned to take forecasts with a grain of salt," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's an inexact science, much like bullpen usage."
Everyone will do everything they can to avoid a rained out game because if it had playoff implications Cleveland would have to return to Detroit on Monday for a makeup.
"I know they're going to try," manager Terry Francona of Cleveland said. "If we don't play, we'd have to come back here on Monday if need be. I'm sure they're going to try and play, even though the forecast isn't very good."
"If the game didn't have any ramifications you wouldn't play it," Ausmus said. "That happened last year. We had a game rained out with Cleveland. We only played 161 games last year.
"If it had an impact on the playoff race, they would absolutely have to play the game."
Francona is trying to line up his pitching and get his regulars tuned up for whatever playoff fate awaits them. Attaining the best record in the league for home field advantage throughout the playoffs is still a doable feat.
"We talked about it the other day as a team, kind of like how we wanted to approach it," Francona said. "I understand that some guys need rest and that's what we'll do.
"On one hand it gives some of the younger guys a chance to play, which is good. But regardless of who plays or how much, you always play the game right.
"That way you don't have to concern yourself about (raising your level of play). You don't just turn the button on and off; that's hard to do. Then when it comes times for the playoffs to start, then you don't have to worry that you kind of went 80 percent, because that's hard to do."
Detroit will start one of its precious young starters, left-hander Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.59 ERA) while Cleveland will send out one of its September call-ups, southpaw Ryan Merritt (0-0, 1.50 ERA).
Merritt made 24 starts in Triple-A, going 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA. The 16th-round selection in the 2011 draft has been up with the Indians three times this season, pitching just six innings spread over three relief appearances with one run allowed.
This will mark his first appearance against Detroit.
Norris, on the disabled list twice this season, will be making his third start against Cleveland this season. He is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA against the Indians this year and 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA against Cleveland over three career starts.