Surging Braves stand in way of Tigers' playoff chances

BY foxsports • September 30, 2016

ATLANTA -- It once looked like the Detroit Tigers would be catching a break by ending the regular season with an interleague series against the Braves in Atlanta, even if it meant no designated hitter.

The Braves, though, no longer resemble the ballclub that seemed guaranteed to lose more than 100 games in the final season at Turner Field.

The Tigers -- fighting for an American League wild-card spot -- will instead face an Atlanta team that has won 10 of its past 11 games and is 35-34 since the All-Star Game.

Large crowds will be on hand to say good-bye to the Braves' home for the past 20 years and the team wants to put on a good show.

"We kind of feel like have something to play for, too," Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. "I wouldn't say players talk about being spoilers. It's more looking forward to good games that mean something. We want to win these games, too. We're playing like we're a half-game out in the wild-card."

The Tigers, though, obviously have the most riding on the series and now have the prospect of an extra game on Monday if needed after being rained out at home against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.

The good news for Detroit is that there is little chance of rain in Atlanta this weekend.

The Tigers (85-73) are 1 1/2 games in back of Toronto and Baltimore in the race for the two wild-card spots in the American League.

Rookie left-hander Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.59 ERA) was pushed back by the rainout to start the series opener on Friday night, with Jordan Zimmermann (9-6, 4.88 ERA) now going on Saturday. Ace Justin Verlander (16-8, 3.10 ERA) will pitch on Sunday.

The Braves will start Matt Wisler (7-12, 4.86 ERA) in the series opener, followed by rookie Aaron Blair (1-7, 8.02 ERA) and Julio Teheran (6-10, 3.10 ERA) -- the team's All-Star Game representative.

The Tigers will have to adjust their lineup for the series with the absence of designated hitter Victor Martinez from the cleanup spot. The veteran switch-hitter can't play the field because of his knees and will be limited to pinch hitting.

"That's the way it is," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who is glad to at least have third baseman Nick Castellanos back from his broken hand.

Martinez's absence puts extra importance on Miguel Cabrera, though. The first baseman is hitting .423 with two homers and 11 RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak, and has a .352 average with 18 homers and 52 RBIs in his past 62 games.

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman had his hitting and on-base streaks come to an end Thursday against Philadelphia at 30 and 46 games, respectively. He batted .384 during his hitting streak, which was the longest in the majors since 2011.

Dan Uggla set an Atlanta franchise record by hitting in 33 straight games that year. The on-base streak was the longest by a Brave since Gary Sheffield set the Atlanta record of 52 games in 2002.

The Tigers are 12-5 against interleague opponents this year, while the Braves (66-92) are 6-11. The teams have played 18 times, with Detroit winning 12 times. The Tigers have a .621 winning percentage against the National League since 2006.

The Tigers-Indians game will be made up on Monday in Detroit if it carries postseason implications, either for Detroit in the wild-card race or Cleveland for postseason seeding.

The Tigers could end up playing five games in five days in five different cities. After the game in Atlanta on Sunday, they could have to play the makeup game on Monday, then possibly go to Baltimore to play a wild-card tiebreaker against the Orioles on Tuesday, then a wild-card game on Wednesday and the AL Division Series on Thursday.

"I'm aware of it," Ausmus said of the five-games-in-five-days possibility. "But one thing at a time. If that's the scenario, that's a good thing. It's a good problem to have."

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