In the NL East, the magic number for the Atlanta Braves is now down to 1.
It wasn’t an easy ride for Atlanta 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 set right for the division leaders. 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 for the Braves 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 and a 2-run single from Luis Valbuena. Even with that barrage, the visiting 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.
Now, the focus of the NL East shifts to Washington where the 2nd-place Nationals are set to take on the Miami Marlins at 7:05 on Friday night. We will know by the end of the night if the Braves will have clinched the NL East title, but either way, they are well on their way to a division title.