Welcome to the Braves-Washington Nationals series finale that few of us believed would mean anything, and actually we’re still not sure if it means anything, but then again there is this thought: What if it means something?
After consecutive narrow victories Friday (2-1) and Saturday (5-4), the Braves go into tonight’s nationally televised game with a chance for their first series sweep over Washington in three years (Sept. 25-27, 2009). More significant than that historical moment (work with me here) is that the Braves have an opportunity to pull within 5½ games of first place in the National League East after going into this series 8½ back — and, depending on your perspective, seemingly comatose after being swept in Milwaukee.
Now, we learned last season what odds and percentages really mean. (Nothing.) The website Cool Standings calculates the Braves’ chances of winning the East at 1.8 percent going into Sunday (and that has skyrocketed from 0.5 percent before Friday’s game).
But here’s another way to look at it. If the Braves win tonight, they would be 84-63 with 15 games remaining. The National would be 89-57 with 16 left. Even if Washington went only 8-8 in those games, the Braves would need to go 13-2 just to tie them.
Cue Clint Eastwood: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feeling lucky?”
Realistically, the rest of the season is mostly about securing a wild card spot, home field for that game and preparing for the postseason. But publicly, nobody in the clubhouse is conceding anything. Actually, nobody seems consumed with first place. It’s an amazingly low-stress clubhouse now, which is the polar opposite from a year ago at this time. I know everybody is burned out on discussing last season’s flameout but the difference in attitude this year is noteworthy.
If the Braves sweep, it would be significant just from the standpoint that the Braves haven’t folded and seem ready for the stretch run. But we’ll see where things go from here.
Tonight’s pitching match-up: Washington will go with its best starter — at least its best pitcher that hasn’t been shut down for the season — Gio Gonzalez (19-7, 2.93). The Braves go with Mike Minor (8-10, 4.42). Only one lineup change tonight: Reed Johnson is in left field tonight for Martin Prado, who is being rested. Brian McCann (knee) is out but he’s available for pinch-hitting duties.
That’s it for now. What are your thoughts on the Braves moving forward?
The cyber-venting lines are open.
By Jeff Schultz