Indians-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

Barring a stunning collapse, the Atlanta Braves are cruising to a division title.

The Cleveland Indians don't have the same luxury.

With a critical series at Detroit looming, the visiting Indians seek a jolt at the plate as they attempt to avoid being swept by the Braves on Thursday night.

Atlanta (80-52) owns the best record in baseball and leads the NL East by 13 games over Washington, seemingly all but assuring a return to the postseason for the third time in four years.

Cleveland's playoff hopes are much more uncertain, as it sits four games back of Oakland for the AL's second wild-card spot and 5 1/2 behind Central-leading Detroit.

The Indians' wild-card deficit has doubled in the last two days as the A's continue to beat the Tigers. Cleveland (71-61) lost the opener of this series 2-0 to the Braves before falling 3-2 on Wednesday after Chris Johnson's walk-off hit.

The Indians are 0 for 14 with runners in scoring position in this series.

"We're getting good pitching, and because of that we're staying in games and we're giving ourselves a chance," manager Terry Francona said. "But we're not hitting a bunch. It becomes more glaring when you don't get in runners in scoring position with two outs, which we haven't done."

Solving those offensive issues may be imperative since the Indians open a three-game set in Detroit on Friday.

Michael Brantley, though, is doing his part by getting three hits and two stolen bases in the last two games to snap his 1-for-27 slump over the previous seven.

The Indians' rotation has posted a 2.27 ERA over its last eight games, a positive trend Ubaldo Jimenez (9-8, 3.95) will try to continue.

He's become all too familiar with Cleveland's woes at the plate. He's compiled a 2.86 ERA over four August starts, but is 1-3 after getting six total runs of support.

The right hander had a season-high 10 strikeouts Friday while allowing two runs in six innings of a 5-1 loss to Minnesota.

"I don't know if he got mad, but he reared back and competed and let it go," manager Terry Francona said. "I thought (Friday) was the best stuff he had all year. He was really good."

This is Jimenez's first start against the Braves since July 2011, and his second start in Atlanta since throwing a no-hitter at Turner Field on April 17, 2010, with Colorado.

While the Braves aren't dealing with much drama in the standings, they had their share the last time Kris Medlen (10-12, 3.74) took the mound.

Medlen was critical of manager Fredi Gonzalez, who lifted him two batters into the seventh Friday in St. Louis. Though Medlen had thrown just 78 pitches, he gave up a go-ahead homer in the sixth and a double and single to start the next inning in an eventual 3-1 loss.

"I thought I was cruising pretty good," Medlen said Friday. "I hadn't had to battle yet but I wasn't given the opportunity, so I guess I'm voicing the fact that I didn't appreciate that."

Medlen apologized to Gonzalez a day later.

"I'm a competitor and I want to be out there," the right-hander said. "That's all I really told (Gonzalez) I was trying to say. ... It wasn't a big deal. He said whatever he said and it's done. It's not a distraction or anything. It was just me venting to the wrong people."

Medlen will now try to focus on his first meeting with the Indians. He's 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA in four interleague starts this season.

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