Race for a Red October: Fate of the NL East is TBD

Brian Tinsman
September 05, 2019 - 6:48 pm
Nationals-Braves: Fate of the NL East is TBD

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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** This installment of Race For A Red October is presented by PVI Office Furniture.

The Washington Nationals bookended their most successful three weeks of baseball with two losing series to the New York Mets. 

Now they have to rekindle the fire – and any chance of winning the NL East – against the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

As it stands, the Nats are seven games back of the Braves with seven games remaining against their division rival. Given the success both teams have had in recent weeks, the Nats have to be perfect and still hope for a break. 

The Braves are in the driver's seat, and they have insurance.

This four-game series will be payed at SunTrust Park, where the Braves are 44-27.

If the Nats, just 37-31 on the road, intend to close the gap, they have to dominate this series. Here's how the Nationals can help their Race for a Red October against the Braves:

Playoff chances (via fivethirtyeight.com): 95 percent

Playoff clinching magic number: 24

National to watch: Why don't the Nats miss Bryce Harper? Because they upgraded his production with Juan Soto. In the last week, he has a batting line of .464/.500/1.071. Since the All-Star break, he has been outshined on the team only by Anthony Rendon, who is squarely in the MVP race. After being hit by a pitch on Tuesday, he dispelled fears by crushing a pitch 443 feet over the fence.

Brave worth mentioning: Rendon could lose the MVP award to Freddie Freeman, who is having a historic year in Atlanta. Already with a career-high 38 home runs, Freeman also leads baseball with 114 RBIs. If the Nats hope to neutralize him, they need to send as much left-handed pitching against him as possible. Compared to his .318 average vs. righties, he bats only .253 this season vs. southpaws.

By the numbers: The series vs. the Mets wasn't all bad, but mostly because of a crazy comeback win that involved seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the team's largest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history. Across baseball, ESPN reported that teams were then 5-1,321 when trailing by 6+ runs heading into the bottom of the ninth.

Notable quote: "We've just got to go take it one game at a time. I know it sounds really cliché, but they're too good for us to take a big-picture approach." Sean Doolittle invoked a classic sports line that couldn't be truer for the Nats as they try to chase down a playoff spot.

Series prediction: If the Nats are destined to be a division-winner, they will find a way to sweep the Braves. Anything short of that, and the Nats are effectively gunning for the Wild Card, a race in which they now have just a three-game lead over the Cubs.

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Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.