Second wild card team makes rush for playoffs intriguing for Nationals

Based on last year's playoff format, the Atlanta Braves would be the only wild card team and the Nationals would know what to expect once October rolls around.

Of course, the Nationals still need to maintain first place for that scenario to play out. The Nats will have 10 of their remaining 16 games at home after Sunday.

Sunday is a big game, even if it doesn't mean the Nationals' lead will be relinquished, and they could use a win after two hard fought, one-run losses at Turner Field.

Tuesday could be another playoff preview as the Los Angeles Dodgers arrive for a three-game set. The Dodgers have won two in a row after a span where they had taken just three of their last 10. But St. Louis has struggled even more, losing two in a row and eight of their last 10. So, the Dodgers now hold the final wildcard spot and would play at Atlanta October 5.

Looking further into the crystal ball, if the Dodgers would win that game, they would host Games 1 and 2 at Dodger Stadium in the divisional playoffs. That would mean a cross country flight for the Nationals to begin the postseason. But that is getting way ahead of the story. It just seems to be a ridiculous award for finishing the regular season with the best record in the National League: a 3,000-mile trek to play two games against the team with the worst record of the regular season playoff teams.

St. Louis is tied with the Dodgers, Pittsburgh is two games back, Milwaukee 2 1/2 games, Philadelphia three games and Arizona 4 1/2 games back of the final wild card spot and a ticket to Atlanta for the play-in game.

The Nationals face the Brewers for a rare wrap-around series next weekend when the Dodgers leave town.

Then, the Nationals take on the Phillies (two series) and the Cardinals to finish the regular season. Every team they face down the stretch is still in the playoff race. Many talked about this weekend's series against the Braves having the feeling of a playoff game with its intensity. The rest of the schedule will have that feeling too, because all the teams the Nationals face are playing for their season with each game.

Want to get ready for the postseason and the possible Nationals' matchups? All 17 remaining regular season games will have that feel. No need to wait.

Programming note: I will have low Hagerstown-A manager Brian Daubach and other guests live from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on "Nats Insider" on 1580 AM. Daubach will give us an update on the first weekend of instructs from Viera, Fla.

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