If you blinked, you missed the Braves stretch their lead to 6.5 games with just thirteen games left on the schedule. Atlanta’s magic number is now 8, and while you never want to assume anything, the Braves are nearing their first playoff appearance since 2013.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s MLB Predictions, Atlanta now has a 98% chance of winning the NL East.
So let’s examine who the Braves match up best with, ranking them from easiest to hardest.
5. St. Louis Cardinals
Two months ago the Cardinals looked like a team ready to pack it in. A 22-6 month of August will change things real quick, though. Even with that stretch, they remain in the second wild-card spot with a real shot of missing the playoffs altogether.
Their lineup is one of the weaker ones among playoff teams, which is a plus for any pitching staff, but especially one like Atlanta’s, with little to no playoff experience. The Braves offense should also be able to manufacture some runs against a rotation that lacks a true ace.
These two teams have only met once this year and have a three-game set upcoming. The Braves took all three in one of the best series they have played all season, but that was before St. Louis heated up. The Cardinals will have a chance for some revenge when they come to Atlanta September 17th.
4. Colorado Rockies
The Braves took two of three against the Rockies in a cold early April series in Denver. You cannot really put too much clout in that, especially when the Rockies came to SunTrust and took all four less than a month ago. They have one of the most powerful lineups in the National League, making them a tough out for anyone, but it is not like the Braves were not competitive. The bullpen blew two saves in perhaps their worst series of the season.
A Colorado vs. Atlanta series would be wildly entertaining. A few MVP candidates, a couple of high-powered offenses in two beautiful ballparks makes for some high-quality baseball. It’s also very possible. The Braves are currently sitting on top of the NL East and would be the #2 seed in the NL. Colorado leads a tight race out West, and the winners of the East and West will likely face off in a divisional round matchup.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Braves and Brewers have played some fantastic baseball games this year. Just before the All-Star break, Milwaukee bested the Braves, talking three of four. A month later, Atlanta settled the score. They took two of three at home, capped off by an 8-7 thriller on a Sunday afternoon.
Milwaukee has a scary lineup loaded with power and speed, but their scariest aspect by far is their bullpen. They can pull a starter on any given night after four innings and confidently expect a shutout the rest of the way. That’s an advantage that holds serious weight come October. Not to mention, Milwaukee is the hottest team in the National league, approaching the Cubs for first place in the Central division.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have the talent mixed with experience that makes them dangerous every time they make the postseason. Their lineup includes a former MVP, a current MVP candidate and got even more dangerous with the addition of Daniel Murphy. Positionally, they might be the deepest in the NL, but their pitching is not what it was when they won the World Series two years ago.
Chicago will be leaving their postseason success in the hands of two veteran lefties. Albeit, two of the best to do it all-time. Jon Lester has been the ace of this staff ever since joining the team in 2015, but at 34, he is starting to get up there in age. His ERA the last two seasons is over a full run worse than his first two seasons in the Windy City. Cole Hamels has worked like a charm so far with the Cubs, posting a 4-0 record with a 1.42 ERA in 8 starts with his new team. He is also 34 and well past his prime, but you cannot sleep on the experience these guys bring with them into October.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
This might come as somewhat of a surprise because the Dodgers are on the outside of the playoff picture and have been for the majority of the season. But if they find a way to sneak in, watch out.
Last year’s NL champions still own the best overall roster in the league. It’s almost like people have forgotten about Clayton Kershaw because for the first time since 2010 he is not flirting with a 2.00 ERA. Keep in mind his ERA is still just 2.51 even though he has battled nagging injuries all season. It does not get much tougher than Kershaw in a playoff atmosphere. The Dodgers back up their ace with an All-Star in Ross Stripling, a former All-Star and Brave Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill, both who carry sub-four ERAs. It’s the best rotation in baseball and it will be noticeable if they can make it to October.
Beside’s their pitching, they might have the best lineup in the National League, and that is without their star shortstop Corey Seager. All the Dodgers did to replace him was bring in one of the face’s of the MLB, Manny Machado. The 26-year old superstar is in the midst of a career year and joined a lineup that was already blessed with an abundance of riches. The Braves have had success against some of the MLB’s best, but are 2-5 versus the Dodgers. If there is one team Atlanta does not want to see in the first round, it is Los Angeles.