ATLANTA -- The Braves are still holding out hope to win the National League East. But on Friday night, they squandered what might have been one of their last opportunities to gain ground on the first-place Nationals.
With their 3-1 loss to the Mets, the Braves were unable to take advantage of the Nationals' lopsided loss to the Cardinals. Had the Braves won, they would have pulled within three games of first place.
But with five games remaining, they stand four games behind the Nationals, who have a magic number of two to clinch the division.
"There's no margin for error," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You're watching the scoreboard. There's still games left."
The Braves have already secured the top National League Wild Card spot. If they do not win the division, they will host the second Wild Card, currently the Cardinals, in a one-game playoff Friday. The winner will advance to the Division Series.
Saturday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Mets (Young, 4-8) at Braves (Minor, 10-10), 7:10 p.m. Preview >
Nationals (Zimmermann, 12-8) at Cardinals (Lohse, 16-3), 7:15 p.m. Preview >
If the postseason started today ...
This is how the teams would match up: Postseason Bracket »
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.
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
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.