Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 15, 2012

Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 15, 2012

Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 15, 2012
ATLANTA -- The Nationals dropped Friday night's series opener, 2-1, against the Braves, their closest National League East competitor, but they had little reason for concern despite the loss.

"You play all season to build up that lead, and we're right in the thick of it right now. We've got a nice little cushion," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "We got all playoff teams the rest of the way. We're going to be tested, but I think we're ready for that test. I really do. I think probably the last two weeks you can really tell a difference in this team. We're a championship-caliber ballclub, a lot of guys just hitting stride. I like where we're at."

Washington is still 7 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East race, and the Nats' magic number for clinching a playoff berth is four. With two wins to finish out the series in Atlanta, plus two losses by the Dodgers, Washington will actually head back home to face the Dodgers with a guaranteed playoff spot in hand. However, the Nationals have higher goals than just the one-game Wild Card playoff.

"[Clinching a playoff spot is] not a big moment. It's a nice moment, but it's not a big moment," Johnson said. "The additional Wild Card, to me, just put more of a burden on the manager, because nobody wants that one. The one-game playoff to get in -- the other format, if you were the Wild Card, you're in the playoffs. So, clinching a one-game playoff doesn't have any appeal at all to me."

Today's key games to watch (all times ET)

Nationals (Jackson, 9-10) at Braves (Hanson, 12-8), 4:05 p.m. Preview >

Pirates (Rodriguez, 3-4) at Cubs (Berken, 0-0), 1:05 p.m. Preview >

Cardinals (Garcia, 4-7) at Dodgers (Blanton, 1-4), 10:10 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Wild Card: Second Wild Card at First Wild Card
Division Series: Second-best AL record vs. Third-best AL record | Best AL record at Wild Card winner

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Wild Card: Second Wild Card at First Wild Card
Division Series: Second-best NL record vs. Third-best NL record | Best NL record at Wild Card winner

Postseason Bracket »

Postseason 101

Magic numbers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.

Tiebreaker scenarios
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker rules »

2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.