Congrats, top seed - now hit the road

With the Nationals maintaining first place in the National League East and beginning a big division match-up tonight in Atlanta, the Nats have to feel good about having an 8 1/2-game lead over the Braves.

Even if the Braves sweep the Nationals this weekend, the Nats will still have a 5 1/2-game lead.

The wild card race has become very exciting with St. Louis and Atlanta still leading, but Milwaukee and Philadelphia joining Pittsburgh in the battle for the final slot. Oh, did I mention Arizona and the L.A. Dodgers? Yes, it is really heating up.

But because the new format has the two wild card teams playing a play-in game scheduled for Friday, Oct. 5, the divisional series begins on the road for the two NL teams with the best record.

Therefore, if the season ended today, the Nationals would have to play the first two games of a five-game divisional series on the road. Games 3 through 5 would be at Nationals Park.

Major League Baseball will not have this issue with playoff scheduling after this season. The 2013 season will end almost a week earlier - September 29, 2013, as the Nationals finish at Arizona. But not this year. That allows a buffer zone for the top seeds to play the 2-2-1 format and have games one, two and five at home, like it should be as reward for having the best records in the full 162-game regular season.

Just as the Nationals benefited from being the worst team at the right time in 2009 and 2010 to get top overall selections Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, this season they will have to go on the road to start the playoffs. They could have the best record in all of baseball and be back in Atlanta on Oct. 6 or 7 to start the postseason. Or in St. Louis, L.A. Pittsburgh or even Philadelphia.

And it also opens up a scenario where the worst of the Wild Card teams could win that play in game and then have two games at home before heading on the road, even though said team may have 15 fewer wins than the top seed.

Yup, that’s right.

Silver lining? Nobody has won more road games that the Nationals have this season - sporting a 45-27 road mark - and they have three more in Atlanta this weekend in what could be a playoff preview.

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