The next three weeks are critical for the Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves should be on a high after taking 3-out-of-4 games from the best team in baseball, and winning a tough west coast road trip 5 wins to 2 losses. But as tough as the last week and half has been, the next three weeks have the potential to be make or break for the 2009 Braves.

They will have a great opportunity to rest with an off day on Monday and another off day on Thursday. Between those off-days at home, they will face the hottest team in baseball... the Washington Nationals. No, that's not a misprint, the Washington Nationals have won 8 games in a row. That actually may be a blessing in disguise. The Braves always seem to take the Nationals for granted as an easy team, and then end up losing more that they should. With the Nats now a hot team, perhaps the Braves will treat them as a more serious opponent.

After the Nats and another off-day, the Braves face off against the division leading Phillies at home for a 3-game weekend series. We've played the Phillies tough this year, winning 7 games versus just 2 losses, but they've been a hot team lately and may be harder to beat than the club we've faced so far this year. In fact, the Phillies hot streak started in early July, just after the Braves swept them at Turner Field. Let's hope that hot streak has flamed out, and we can bookend it with sweeps. It is conceivable that the Braves could be playing the Phillies for the division lead next weekend... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

After the Phillies we have a make-up game at home against the Diamondbacks, then we go on the road to New York and play the Mets for 3, then back home for more inter-division play against the Marlins for 3 games. Another off-day at home, and then 3 games against the Padres at the Ted.

Twelve of our next 15 games are at home, we have 3 off days mixed in, and we play every team in the NL East during that span. This is certainly a time when a lot of movement within the division can take place. The Braves need to win 11 of those 15 games. If they do that, they may find themselves in first place in the East, with the three key games being next weekend against Philly. That's a tall order, but one that the team should be able to do while playing 9 of those games against teams with records below .500.

If the Braves can't come out of this three week stretch with a winning record, then they may find it hard to pull into contention with time running out in the 2009 season. The time is now to make a move. Atlanta can put the Marlins in third, and can significantly eat away at the Phillies lead, if not boot them out of first. While the Wild Card is in the back of my mind, I don't even want to think about it, as the difference between the Wild Card lead and the NL East division lead is only 1 game. This is the Braves chance to reestablish themselves as the NL East division champs, and it will happen over the next 3 weeks.

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