The Washington Nationals watched as the Atlanta Braves upped the ante in the NL East by trading for outfielder Justin Upton and adding him to a lineup which includes his brother B.J Upton. The trade sends a clear message that Atlanta wants to win the East and make Washington play in the one game wildcard playoff in 2013.
Last season, was the first year that MLB added a fifth playoff team in each league and instituted the wildcard game. The Nationals avoided having to play in it by winning their division, despite a late rally by the Braves. Though playing in front of their home crowd, Atlanta lost to the St. Louis Cardinals and their season came to an end. Washington took on St. Louis in a best of five NL Divisional Series and was defeated, 3-2.
The Nationals understood the importance of winning the East last season as they did not want their inexperienced team to face the pressure of a one and done playoff. Washington not only knew that a best of five series gave them a better chance of advancing, but would better prepare them for future trips to the postseason. Though they lost to St. Louis, the Nationals learned what playoff baseball is about.
This season, they will learn what it’s like to be the front-runner and how to hold off a challenger. Because of their past playoff experience, the Braves felt that they were prepared for a one game playoff. Though they would have liked to have won the East, Atlanta was happy to get back to the post season after a disastrous collapse down the stretch in 2011.
After losing to the Cardinals, the Braves learned that winning the division is important. Atlanta, also, knows that Washington is the team they have to beat. So the Braves have gone about finding the firepower necessary to win the East and make Washington play in a do-or-die game. This should make for a very interesting divisional race.
If there was one team that the Nationals struggled to beat last season it was Atlanta. Washington went 10-8 against the Braves. With the pennant on the line in September, the Nationals were swept by Atlanta in a three game series. A lead that was once 8 1/2 games dwindled to two before Washington clinched the East on the final Monday of the season.
The Braves hope to put the same pressure that they did in September on Washington for the entire 2013 season. The Nationals know it and will have to play good baseball from opening day until the East is decided. As mentioned earlier, it will be new territory for Washington and how they handle it will determine whether they stay on top of the division.
The Braves and Nationals have made their offseason moves. Now it is time for them to settle it on the field.