Weekend series one to watch between Braves, Nats

Associated PressAtlanta Braves' Johan Camargo, left, is followed through the dugout by Josh Donaldson as they are congratulated after Camargo's two-run home run to the left field during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Monday in Atlanta.

It's hard to fathom that one series will determine the fate of a baseball team's season, for better or worse. After all, the schedule is 162 games long, it stretches from late March to the end of September and includes between 18 and 19 games vs division foes. 

But call me crazy, the Atlanta Braves' upcoming weekend tilt with the Washington Nationals could go a long way in determining the home team's postseason fate. Don't get me wrong, this is a team destined for the playoffs. It would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Braves not to be playing October baseball.

No, what I'm talking about is the length of the Braves' stay in the playoffs. A strong showing against the hottest team in the National League would allow the Braves to flex their muscle a little bit and say to the baseball world, 'We are the more than capable of knocking off the favored Dodgers in October.'

As I preview this series, the Braves had just knocked off the Toronto Blue Jays on Labor Day, the fifth win in a row, which increased Atlanta's National League East Division lead to 6.5 games. 

A series sweep at home against the Nats all but ends this division race and allows the Braves to coast to the playoffs and rest key players, like veteran position players Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson and young pitchers Max Fried and Mike Soroka. 

If the Braves win three out of four, this all but drives the nail in the coffin and pretty much renders the final series between the teams meaningless. If Atlanta has a double-digit lead when Washington leaves SunTrust Park on Sunday, even a sweep by the Nationals over the Braves when the two teams meet for the final time on Sept. 13-15 would only make the deficit seven or eight games.

A series split this weekend keeps the Nationals in the division race but doesn't really do them any good. They really need to sweep the Braves to make this a race to the finish.

Before the season began, the National League East division was pictured as a four-team race between the Braves, Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. With the Phillies and Mets falling back, the race will be won by the Braves or Nats. 

Of all of the potential outcomes from this weekend's series, a split is my prediction. The Braves, more than happily, take a split at home and maintain a comfortable lead atop the division standings. Whatever the outcome this weekend, though, it should be a whole lot of fun to watch.

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