The journey has not always been the smoothest for the Atlanta Braves this year, but the path to another postseason is crystal clear for the three-time National League East Division champions.
The Braves began this week 4.5 games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Phillies and 5 games in front of the New York Mets. Twenty games remain for the Braves, including one long road trip out west that includes visits to three states (California twice) and three cities that will undoubtedly determine the Braves' playoff fate.
After the beginning of the season in which the Braves struggled to tread water in a very watered-down division, being in this position is all Atlanta and its fans could ask for. The Braves started 44-45, never reached above .500 until Aug. 5 and has suffered numerous injuries to star players.
But now that the Braves have assumed control of the division, they need to seize the opportunity with three weeks left to play. It will not be easy, though the Colorado Rockies are absolutely dreadful on the road; 21-51. At least two out of three is required in this week's quick home series. One would think the Braves will make quick work of them this week.
Then a long road trip to the N.L.-leading San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, who might be the worst team in baseball; and the San Diego Padres awaits. The Giants and Padres should provide stiff competition for the Braves, who are looking to make their first trip to the World Series this century.
I remain optimistic about the trip because the Braves just won two out of three against the Giants at home and are scheduled to start Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Touki Toussaint in the three-game series. Arizona is 47-97 and has only 28 home victories. At least three wins in the desert is required. Then the Braves travel to San Diego, where the Padres have sputtered recently and are clinging to hopes of a wild-card berth.
It almost feels like the Braves have to win six if not seven games on this road trip. It is doable. The Braves are 39-32 away from home, which is fourth best in the National League. If the Braves accomplish a winning road trip, it sets up a six-game homestand showdown with the Phillies and the Mets.
The Braves have everything in front of them – a division title, a chance to return to the N.L.C.S. and opportunity to play in the Fall Classic. Again, after the way this season started, that is all the Braves could have hoped for.
Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.