A look at how the NL East race has unfolded

Just like nobody in their right mind could have ever expected, the Braves will enter this week’s three-game series against the Nationals with their largest lead in a division race since Sept. 2, 2003, a day during which Al Leiter beat Mike Hampton at Shea Stadium.

In case you forgot, the Nationals entered this season as the overwhelming favorites to win the National League East race and the Braves were targeted to make their second consecutive appearance in the do-or-die, roll-of-the dice one-game Wild Card playoff game.

Sure, there was reason to believe the Braves could prove the preseason prognosticators wrong by winning the division.  But nobody could have envisioned them owning a 12 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals entering tonight’s series opener at Nationals Park.

Let’s take a look at how this race has evolved:

April 1-18:  While the Braves won 13 of their first 15 games (including each of the three played against the Nationals), the Nationals went 9-6 and fell four games back.

April 19-28:  As the Braves were losing seven of the final nine games on their first 10-game road trip, the Nationals went 4-6 and gained just 1 1/2 games.

April 29-May 2:  The two teams split a four-game series at Turner Field, leaving Atlanta with a 2 1/2-game lead

May 3-May 15:   As the Braves won five times during a 12-game stretch that concluded with five losses in a span of six games, the Nationals went 6-5 and pulled within one-game of Atlanta.

May 17-22:  While the Braves were proving perfect during a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Twins, the Nationals lost four of six and fell to 4 1/2 games back in the division standings.

May 24-30:  The Braves went 4-3 during a seven-game stretch against the Mets and Blue Jays.  Meanwhile, the Nationals went 3-4 and lost another game in the race.

May 31-June 9:  The Braves took two of three against the Nationals in Atlanta and then swept a three-game series against the Pirates.  They then split four games against the Dodgers to leave them 7-3 during this stretch.  Meanwhile, the Nationals went 4-4 during this span and fell 7 1/2 games back.

June 10-26:  As the Braves lost10 of 16, the Nationals won eight of 15 and pulled back within five games of the division lead

June 28-July 14:  While the Braves won nine of their final 16 games before the All-Star break, the Nationals produced a 9-8 stretch that still left them six games back.

July 19-25:  As the Braves lost three of their first seven coming out of the break, they gained two more games against the Nationals,  who went 1-6 during this same stretch

July 26-Aug.4:  While the Braves have been constructing their current 10-game winning streak, the Nationals have gone 5-4 and lost four games in the division standings.

Given that they are just two years removed from their epic September collapse in the NL Wild Card race, the Braves are certainly not going to take anything for granted with 50 games left this season.  But if they can take two of three during this week’s series, they will further deflate the hopes of a Nationals club that simply has not taken advantage of the opportunities they have had to catch Atlanta this year.

While the Braves went 43-42 during an 85-game stretch that spanned from April 19-July25, they actually increased their lead in the NL East race by four games.



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