It's been a long season, and the Atlanta Braves are certainly proud to return to the postseason after last season's collapse. However, don't expect them to give up on the NL East crown just yet.
The Braves entered play last night five games back of the division leading Washington Nationals but picked up a game with their win over the Marlins and the Nationals loss to the Phillies. The task is nearly impossible but after watching the Braves suffer one of the worst late-season collapses in MLB history last season, they know that nothing is out of reach until the lights have gone out on the season. Both teams have eight games remaining on the schedule but the odds may be in the Braves favor.
The Nationals conclude their season with two series against the Philadelphia Phillies, one on the road and at home, and the St. Louis Cardinals, who are currently holding the second wild card spot in the National League. The Phillies still have an outside shot at making the playoffs and will continue to trot out their best lineup and with the Cardinals currently maintaining a 4.5 game lead, they will likely compete down to the very end. Meanwhile, the Braves will finish the season against the two teams that currently occupy bottom two spots in the NL East, the Miami Marlins (4-12 vs. the Braves) and the New York Mets (5-10 vs. the Braves), with both series taking place in Atlanta. The Braves conclude their season with a final three-game stint on the road at Pittsburgh, a team that is all-but eliminated from postseason contention.
Braves skipper Fredi Gonazlez had this to say about the chase:
"It's going to be difficult catching Washington because we don't play them anymore," Gonzalez said. "But at the very least let's keep an eye on them and make it interesting. If we can get some wins here and make it two or three games closer, it'll be interesting at the very least."
Atlanta would be ecstatic to get out of the one-game playoff and win a division crown but it's going to be a tall task. As Fredi mentioned, at the very least, the Braves could force the Nationals to continue to throw out there everyday lineup until the very last game of the season. They can clinch home field advantage for he Wild Card round during the Mets series next week, with the magic number currently sitting at four.
Oddly enough, the division crown could be decided by the Phillies, with the Nationals having to defeat Philadelphia five times over the next week. Philadelphia is one of the few teams that the Nationals haven't figured out yet, as Washington currently holds a 5-8 record against the Phillies. Braves fans will never forget the Phillies sweep of Atlanta to end their season last year, and perhaps this season will have a similiar ending.
The good news is that the Atlanta Braves will be heading to the post-season once again, but don't count them out of the NL East division race just yet!
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