The magic number is 1.
It wasn’t an easy ride for the Atlanta Braves on Friday afternoon, as they blew a 5-1 lead in allowing the Chicago Cubs to tie the game through 7 innings, but in the 9th inning, everything was right with the world. The Braves exploded for 4 runs in the final frame, and with that, they pushed to a 9-5 victory that placed the Washington Nationals on the brink of elimination.
Chris Johnson led off the scoring in Chicago with a 2nd inning home run, but the biggest blow of the early going with a 3-run blast from Freddie Freeman that elicited the usual flood of MVP comments from the Twitter community. After the Freeman blast, the Braves held a 4-0 lead, and the two teams traded runs (including a Paul Maholm RBI double) in the next two half-innings.
However, the middle innings belonged exclusively to the Cubs. Starlin Castro began to peck away at the lead with a solo home run off of Paul Maholm in the 5th, but Chicago managed to chase Maholm in the 6th thanks to a blast by Donnie Murphy (he’s been unconscious in the power department), and a 2-run single from Luis Valbuena. Even with that barrage, the Braves held a 5-4 lead, but when Luis Avilan (facing a right-handed batter for reasons passing understanding) allowed a game-tying home run to Dioner Navarro in the 7th.
Fortunately, the Braves offense was just laying in the weeds, and the aforementioned 9th-inning barrage was still to come. The Braves batted around in the inning, put up 8 hits (including the finishing 2-run double from Andrelton Simmons), and when the dust settled, this game was put away. Craig Kimbrel emerged for an 8-pitch 9th inning (really, 8 pitches), and that was that.
On the whole, this was a positive outcome for the Braves (obviously), but there were bits of concern. Paul Maholm was strong for the majority of his outing but came unglued late, the offense had its usual spurts of greatness but also stalled at times, and the bullpen (namely Avilan) wasn’t as flawless as in some recent days. However, this isn’t time to be picky, and this was a momentum-building victory.
Now, the focus shifts to Washington where the Nationals are set to take on the Miami Marlins at 7:05 on Friday night. There is a school of thought (of which I am apart of) that is actually rooting for Washington to win on Friday so that the Braves can “celebrate” the division-clinching moment on the back of their own win, but either way, the day of reckoning is upon us for the Nats. Stay tuned.