Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Oct. 1, 2012

Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Oct. 1, 2012

Nationals' Path to the Postseason: Oct. 1, 2012
ST. LOUIS -- The Nationals could have taken matters into their own hands Sunday, punching their final postseason ticket with a win over the Cardinals. A Braves loss would have sufficed as well -- anything to strike that magic number down to zero.

But Washington got roughed up by St. Louis, 10-4, at Busch Stadium, and Atlanta beat New York, 6-2. So the Nationals' magic number remains at one, and they'll need to win one of their final three regular-season games at home against the Phillies -- or wait for the Braves to drop a game to the Pirates -- to finally clinch the National League East title.

"Better to clinch it at home," manager Davey Johnson said.

The Nationals have already guaranteed themselves at least a spot in the Wild Card game and a potential playoff game against the Braves to decide the NL East winner. If they lock down the division, they will be one of the NL's top two seeds. The Reds won Sunday, pulling into a tie with the Nationals for the league's best record.

Washington will get its first chance Monday with lefty John Lannan on the mound and a Nationals Park crowd eager to see their team bring home its first NL East title.

"We just want to do it. It doesn't matter where it's at. It'll be nice to just get it out of the way," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "But at the same time, we've got to play the type of baseball we know we're capable of playing, and we didn't do that [Sunday]. Bounce back [Monday]."

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

Braves (Maholm, 13-10) at Pirates (Locke, 0-3), 7:05 p.m. Preview >

Phillies (Kendrick, 10-12) at Nationals (Lannan, 4-0), 7:05 p.m. Preview >

Reds (Arroyo, 12-9) at Cardinals (Garcia, 6-7), 8:15 p.m. Preview >

Giants (Cain, 16-5) at Dodgers (Harang, 10-10), 10:10 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

This is how the teams would match up: 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.