Last night the Phillies secured a big victory against the Atlanta Braves.  Even though Phillies starter Jason Vargas lasted just three innings against a tough Braves lineup, the Phillies hit five home runs en route to a 6-5 victory. The win combined with a Chicago Cubs loss has the Phillies just two games behind a Wild Card spot.

The path to the playoffs might not be through the Chicago Cubs, however.  After many have long assumed the Washington Nationals were a lock for the top wild card spot, that may no longer be the case.  After Tuesday night's loss to the Minnesota Twins, the Nationals sat at 79-64

That means the Nationals, losers of six out of their last 10 games, have just a 2.5 game lead for the first Wild Card.  The Phillies are two games behind the Cubs and therefore 4.5 games behind the Nationals.  That number may sound like a lot, but the Nationals could have a tough path forward.

So what is the remaining Nationals schedule like?

The Nationals just began a three-game series against the Twins.  From they return home for three against the first place Atlanta Braves.  Then, they hit the road for three in St. Louis against the Cardinals and three against the Miami Marlins.  The Nationals then have the looming five-game series against the Phillies in Washington before closing out their season against the Cleveland Indians, looking to secure a Wild Card of their own.

In other words, the only games the Nationals play against teams with a losing record are the three against the Miami Marlins.

That is not to say, of course, that the Phillies have an easy path of their own.  After this four-game series against the Braves concludes, the Phillies play two against Boston. Then they hit the road against Atlanta and Cleveland for three each before the five-game series against Washington.  The Phillies close with three in Miami.

The Phillies have takenc are of most teams.  In fact, the Phillies have winning records against everyone except the Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants, and Washington Nationals.

If the Phillies can continue to hold even against the Braves and take care of the Nationals, it's not inconceivable that the Phillies be two or three games behind the Washington Nationals when that five-game series commences on September 23.

If the Phillies reverse the 5-9 record against the Nationals this season and go 4-1 in that series, they can pick up three games.  Going 3-2 they can pick up one game, and try to take care of business in Miami while the Nationals face the Indians.

The Phillies could catch up with Chicago too, but the Nationals are the one team they can face directly and do something with impact.  It will not be easy, but the Nationals are struggling a little bit and the Phillies have been slightly above a .500 team.

No matter what, this race could come down to the wire.

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