The Braves just completed what might have been their best series of the season. They went toe-to-toe with their red-hot division rivals that were chasing them down from behind and nearly walked away with a sweep. The Braves had to face all three of the Nationals aces and only fell to Sherzer in the series finale. Atlanta’s rotation that has been marvelous of late matched them blow for blow and put the division out of reach for all intents and purposes. Now, the focus is on when – not if – the Braves will clinch the NL East for the second year in a row.
The series win shrinks Atlanta’s magic number to eleven with 18 games left on the schedule, meaning if they can go 11-7 the rest of the way, they will take home the NL East crown no matter what the Nationals do. The Braves begin a four-game set in Philadelphia with the floundering Phillies, who are still trying to sneak their way into the Wild Card game. Atlanta has gotten the best of the Phillies ever since they were swept in Philadelphia to open the season, winning six of their last nine matchups. Not only do the Braves want to continue their hot-stretch of play, but they would also love to put a damper on what is left of the Phillies playoff hopes.
Meanwhile, Washington heads to Minnesota to take on the most powerful lineup in baseball. That’s going to be a challenging series to win, especially when you consider Max Scherzer will not be pitching. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Braves could win three of four and the Nationals could drop two of three, bringing Atlanta’s magic number down to six before they face the Nationals again in Washington – where a sweep would clinch the Braves the division.
That is a lot of ifs, however. Most likely, the Braves will be aiming to clinch the division in Philadelphia the series after. This would give them plenty of time to rest some of their starters, play more guys who are competing for playoff roster spots (see our current projected playoff roster here), and most importantly, allow their young arms – Mike Soroka and Max Fried – to skip a start and limit their innings.
There is also the quest for a 100-win season. Coincidently, the Braves need to win 11 more games to reach the mark, which is also their magic number. So they should have their eyes on that goal moving forward. If they do win 100 games, that could be enough to earn them the best record in the National League. Behind 17 wins in their last 20 games, the Braves are only 3.5 games back of the Dodgers for first place in the NL. Now, I’m not sure if that is something Atlanta needs to be worried about. They might be better off playing a team like the Cardinals in the first round rather than the Nationals and their three power arms in a five-game series. However, having home-field advantage against the Dodgers could pay its dividends, especially considering how porous the Braves have played at Chavez Ravine.