Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 16, 2012

Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 16, 2012

Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 16, 2012
ATLANTA -- The Nationals lost to the Braves by one run for a second straight day Saturday, falling, 5-4, at Turner Field as their National League East lead dropped to 6 1/2 games with 17 to play.

Washington is certainly not panicking despite the consecutive losses, but the Nats did recognize that avoiding a sweep in Sunday night's series finale will go a long way toward pushing them down the stretch run and holding back the Braves.

"You don't want to get swept anywhere, especially against the team behind you, so it's a big game," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think they're all pretty big from here on out. But we've got a chance to really gain some ground against these guys. Had two close ones, lost 'em. Come out [Sunday], hopefully take one."

The Nationals' magic number to clinch a playoff spot of any kind remains at four, removing the possibility that they could have headed home with a postseason ticket -- albeit not yet the one they want, the NL East championship -- in hand. Washington's magic number to clinch that title is still 11.

"I look at all of them as important. I don't have them weighted any more important than the others," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "[Sunday is] another big one. They're all big from here on out."

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

Reds (Latos, 12-4) at Marlins (Nolasco, 12-12), 1:10 p.m. Preview>

Phillies (Halladay, 10-7) at Astros (Lyles, 4-11), 2:05 p.m. Preview >

Mets (Young, 4-7) at Brewers (Peralta, 1-0), 2:10 p.m. Preview >

Pirates (Locke, 0-1) at Cubs (Volstad, 3-10), 2:20 p.m. Preview >

Giants (Vogelsong, 12-8) at D-backs (Corbin, 5-7), 4:10 p.m. Preview >

Cardinals (Wainwright 13-13) at Dodgers (Fife, 0-1), 4:10 p.m. Preview >

Nationals (Gonzalez, 19-7) at Braves (Minor, 8-10), 8:05 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.