The final series of the regular season is finally here. Just three games separate the Braves and postseason play, and they're yet to know what their plans will be. When the series begins with the Pirates on Monday night, Atlanta enters knowing two things: if they want to win the National League East, they'll have to a) sweep and b) have the Phillies sweep the Nationals.
If either of these two things do not happen -- and I wouldn't hold your breath -- Atlanta will be forced to play in the wild card play-in game on Friday night against either the Cardinals or Dodgers. If the two sweeps were to occur, the Bravos and Nats would play a one-game playoff on Thursday to determine the winner of the East. Loser then has to play the next night in the afore mentioned play-in game.
Talk about some potential Frequent Flyer Miles.
As for the Pirates, they have already clinched their 20th straight losing season. If the Nationals do indeed win their game on Monday night (or even Tuesday), I wouldn't mind Pittsburgh winning a game or two for their fans. They really put on a show during the summer months, and they've fallen a bit short yet again.
Andrew McCutchen is the player to watch this week. An NL MVP candidate, McCutchen is far and away the best player on his club. He's batting .329 this season, and a strong series could win him the batting title. His OPS is .959, which ranks among the best in baseball amongst outfielders. Combine these numbers with 20 steals and you have one of the most complete offensive players in the game.
Probable Pitchers & Start Times:
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET - Paul Maholm (4-4, 3.65 ERA) vs. Jeff Locke (0-3, 6.35 ERA)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET - Tommy Hanson (13-9, 4.38 ERA) vs. Kevin Correia (11-11, 4.33 ERA)
Wednesday, 12:35 p.m. ET - TBD* vs. A.J. Burnett (16-9, 3.43 ERA)
*TBD: Tim Hudson is scheduled to pitch this game, but that could change if the division race is over. Fredi Gonzalez has said he will likely use a combination of Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and possibly Ben Sheets to pitch the game.