Plenty of possibilities for the Nationals: Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers or Giants?

JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

With their first division crown secured, the Nationals’ focus now turns to who they will face in the opening round of the playoffs, which begins Friday. On Tuesday, they sit tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in the National League, but could win the top seed by virtue of claiming the season series between them.

With two games remaining in the season that could change. As the top seed, they would play the winner of the one-game wild card round — which will feature the Atlanta Braves against either the St. Louis Cardinals or Los Angeles Dodgers — beginning on Sunday. As the second seed, the Nationals would face the San Francisco Giants starting on Saturday.

The Nationals have played all four potential opponents this season, none more than division rival Atlanta, and they have winning records against all of them — except the Dodgers. Below is a quick breakdown of how the Nationals fared against them. Also, vote on which opponent you would prefer the Nationals face in the opening round.

GIANTS: The Nationals are 5-1 against the San Francisco, outscoring them 45-24 and topping one of baseball’s best starting rotations. The Nationals hammered them in a three-game sweep in July, besting Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. In a mid-August meeting, the Nationals took two of three, beating Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum again. Strength: Pitching staff (seventh-best ERA at 3.68) and second-half hitting surge (4.46 runs per game, behind the Nationals’ 4.51 runs per game.)

BRAVES: The Nationals are 10-8 against the Braves this season, outscoring them 84-69. The Braves have won four of the past six meetings, including a three-game sweep in mid-September. The Nationals, however, could benefit from the one-game wild card because Braves dominating ace Kris Medlen would pitch that game and be limited, even on short rest, in the divisional series. Strength: Their bullpen has the second-best ERA in the majors at 2.82 behind the Reds thanks to otherworldly closer Craig Kimbrel. 

CARDINALS: The Nationals are 4-3 against the St. Louis Cardinals, outscoring them 43-40. The Nationals battered the Cardinals’ pitching staff in late August and the Cardinals did the reverse last week, on a mission to prove that they were better than their previous performances. Strength: Third-best starting rotation ERA (3.64) in the majors, the experience of being the defending champions and a second-highest scoring offense in the NL (4.77 runs per game), just behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

DODGERS: The Nationals are 2-4 against the Dodgers with an even 18-18 run total. The Dodgers swept the Nationals in April when they were among the best teams in baseball. Now, they’re clinging to a wild card hope, having dropped a three-game series to the Nationals two weeks ago. They face the toughest route into the playoffs; another loss over the next two games and they’re eliminated. Strength: Tied with the Nationals for the second-best team ERA at 3.35.

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