Who would’ve thought the games would get more important after the Washington Nationals left town.
Starting Monday night, the Atlanta Braves open a four-game series against the National League-best Los Angeles Dodgers, a team they’ve yet to beat this season. Then, they’ll host the Oakland Athletics – the best team in baseball, and the only one with at least 70 wins – for three games.
After taking two of three games against the Nats, something the Braves had to do to stay afloat, they’re 3.5 games behind Washington going into Monday night. That’s certainly not an insurmountable lead, especially when you consider the Braves have won 26 of their last 36 against the Nats and there are several head-to-head games remaining.
But if they get swept out of their own stadium by the Dodgers, A’s or both, they could be in real trouble.
Here’s the good news. The Braves, somehow, will miss the Dodgers’ two best pitchers – Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke – during this four-game set. This is due to an incredibly fortunate turn of events where the Dodgers decided to go to a six-man starting rotation, and the Braves will (hopefully) reap the benefits.
But Kershaw and Greinke were only part of the Braves’ problems with L.A., and if they’re going to stay in this playoff race, they’ll need to overcome all their problems. Specifically, they can’t let the Dodgers’ stacked lineup, which has had the Braves’ number of late, hit the ball all over Atlanta.
Consider that the Braves might not end up in a race for the NL Eastern Division crown, but rather one of two Wild Card spots. If they’re going to earn one of those spots, they’ll need to stay ahead of either the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants, a tall task with this difficult schedule looming. Not only are they currently trailing both teams in the standings, but they’re behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, too, and the Cincinnati Reds are also lurking.
I say Braves fans should hope for four wins in the next seven games. That would be a step in the right direction for a team that has really struggled against quality opponents this season. If they can do that, the Braves will have plenty of winnable games down the stretch against teams like the Marlins, Phillies and, yes, the Nationals.
At the same time, the Braves haven’t done much this season to give their fans hope that they’re capable of taking down two of the best teams in the league, and we’re running out of time to get that confidence back.