For the Braves to avoid getting knocked out of the playoffs in just one game again, they will need to win the NL East to assure themselves of not being in that position. This means that Atlanta is going to have to beat out one of the best teams in all of baseball, the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals are a very strong team, and they have few holes across their roster, Their rotation featuring Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Dan Haren is among the best in the game. Their bullpen has quietly been among the NL's elite for the past few seasons, and will be even better in 2013 with a full year of closer Drew Storen.
Their lineup should be even better, as they finally got the true leadoff hitter they had been lacking and are likely to see Bryce Harper continue in his development to major league superstardom.
If the Braves are going to take the division they need to win the season series against the Nationals. Last year the Braves went just 8-10 in the season series and finished four games behind the Nationals. If they finished at 11-7, that three-game difference would have won the division for the Braves and they would have avoided the play-in game.
The Braves are going to need to figure out how to get the best of their new top rival in the NL East in 2013.