Atlanta Braves: Ranking the Toughest Series Remaining on Their Schedule

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIAugust 9, 2012

Atlanta Braves: Ranking the Toughest Series Remaining on Their Schedule

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    The Atlanta Braves find themselves in the middle of a playoff push and division race.

    The Braves entered Wednesday trailing the Washington Nationals by four games and leading the National League wild-card race.

    In order to secure a postseason berth, the Braves will need to take advantage of their weak opponents and win series against the tougher ones.

    Here's a look at some of the matchups with which the Braves will have their hands full to finish the 2012 season.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (Aug. 17-19)

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the teams fighting the Braves for a wild-card birth in the National League.

    The Braves hold a relatively comfortable four-game lead over the Dodgers entering Wednesday night's play.

    However, the Dodgers should begin to make a push after acquiring both Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino to upgrade their offense.

    Those acquisitions combined with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier give the Dodgers a quality middle of the order.

    The Braves do catch a break in this series as ace Clayton Kershaw will most likely not pitch unless the Dodgers significantly shake up their rotation.

4. Washington Nationals (Sept. 14-16)

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    The Braves will host the current NL East leaders, the Washington Nationals, in mid-September with hopes of taking control of the division.

    The Nationals have proven they are in the thick of the playoff race for the long haul.

    Washington's starting rotation has been the backbone of its team all year long. Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman have all played vital roles in helping the Nationals to the National League lead in team ERA.

    The Braves will have the advantage of having the final series between the two teams at Turner Field.

    Also, if the Nationals stick to their game plan, then Strasburg will be shut down for the rest of the year when this series occurs.

    However, this will obviously be a difficult series for the Braves in the final few weeks of the regular season.

3. San Francisco Giants (Aug. 23-26)

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    The Braves recently fell short in a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field in July.

    Buster Posey dominated that series, going 7-for-13 with six RBI to lead the Giants to take two of three from the Braves.

    The Braves now get to travel to San Francisco to take on the Giants in a four-game set later this month.

    The Giants lead their division by 1.5 games over the Dodgers and traditionally are a tough team to beat at home.

    Matt Cain has established himself as a legitimate ace, and pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have provided the Giants with quality innings. Although Tim Lincecum has struggled this season, he still possesses the stuff to shut down any opponent.

    Winning this series will be a tall task for the Braves.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates (Oct. 1-3)

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    This series has the potential to be one of the most intriguing series in the entire MLB season.

    The Braves and Pirates are the two leaders in the wild-card race in the National League. The playoffs will feature a one-game playoff with the two Wild Cards in each league.

    These two teams will match up in the last series of the regular season and could square off again in the one-game playoff just a few days later.

    If that's the case, then managers Fredi Gonzalez and Clint Hurdle will be strategically making their lineups and setting their rotations all weekend.

    Either way, the Pirates have proven they are not a team to take lightly.

    Pressure will be on both teams in this series, and the Braves will likely have to travel away from home to secure a playoff berth.

1. Washington Nationals (Aug. 20-22)

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    The Braves' ultimate goal is to win a division title, and the series with the Nationals in August will go a long way in determining if Atlanta achieves that goal.

    What makes this series more difficult than the other series against the Nationals is that it will be played in Washington and the Braves will have to deal with Stephen Strasburg.

    If the Nationals keep their starters on regular rest, they will throw out Jordan Zimmerman, Strasburg and Edwin Jackson at the Braves.

    Both Zimmerman and Strasburg have ERAs under three, while Jackson has a respectable 3.56 ERA.

    The Nationals have the Diamondbacks, Giants and Mets before this series, while the Braves play the Mets, Padres and Dodgers.

    The Braves have an easier schedule, so expect for the standings to be tight when these two teams meet in Washington.

    This series will play a major factor in determining the division winner and is one the Braves have their eye on.