Braves' big edge on Nationals

Atlanta could run past Washington for first place

Updated: August 16, 2012, 1:49 PM ET
By Ben Lindbergh | Baseball Prospectus
Michael BournDaniel Shirey/US PresswireMichael Bourn's speed and run-scoring ability could be the key to propelling the Braves past the Nats.

On Wednesday night, the Atlanta Braves shut down the Padres behind another strong start by deadline trade target Paul Maholm. Thanks to a 27-13 run since the start of July, Atlanta's record stands a season-high 19 games above .500.

While the Braves have nipped at the first-place Washington Nationals' heels -- at times this month, just two games have separated the National League East's top teams -- they haven't been able to close the gap completely. The Nats, which won their game Wednesday on the strength of six precious innings from Stephen Strasburg's dwindling supply, have matched them win for win.

The Nationals own the NL's best record, but they haven't locked up a division title. Washington won't have Strasburg on its side for much longer, and the Braves will be right behind them, waiting to capitalize on any sign of weakness. Both teams boast playoff odds north of 90 percent, so neither is likely to miss the postseason -- though, after the way things went for them last September, the Braves probably aren't taking a trip to October for granted.

But the real prize -- a first-place finish and a guaranteed ticket to the divisional round of the playoffs -- remains at stake. The Nats have the better pitching staff and defense, and both teams are evenly matched on offense. But the Braves do have a sizeable advantage in one often-overlooked area: baserunning.

Ben Lindbergh

Baseball Prospectus
Ben Lindbergh is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He has interned for multiple MLB teams and is a member of the BBWAA.