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Atlanta Braves' Marcell Ozuna, front left, Ronald Acuna Jr., front center, Adam Duvall, front right, and others celebrate after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

According to ESPN's latest Major League Baseball playoff calculations, the Atlanta Braves began Monday night's game at Baltimore with a 99.9 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

So, yes, there's still some infinitesimal chance that the Bravos might be golfing come October.

But with just 13 games to be played (including Monday night) in this 60-game regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Atlanta looks all but a certain lock to make the playoffs. And for the first time in more than a month, it's beginning to look like the Braves just might do some damage once they get there.

Certainly you can read too much into Sunday's 8-4 victory over the defending world champion Washington Nationals and their outstanding pitcher Max Scherzer. Thanks to free agency and injuries, the Nats are but a shadow of the magical Beltway Blasters who stunned the world last season by shocking, in succession, the Brewers (wildcard game), Dodgers and Cardinals on their way to a seven-game World Series win over the Houston Cheaters.

Still, you blast two two-run homers against Scherzer in one inning — as the Braves' Adam Duvall and Ozzie Albies did in Sunday's sixth — you've got potential.

Or as Scherzer told the media afterward, "They're a real complete lineup. There's a reason why they score a ton of runs. I feel like I was able to do some good things today, but they did a good job of grinding against me."

This is Atlanta's obvious strength. A dangerous lineup from top to bottom. A smart one, too, especially with the recent return of Albies from a bone bruise. It can grind with the best of them, which is essential come the postseason. Scherzer — one of the game's finest — struck out 10 Braves, but threw a total of 119 pitches before leaving with one out in the top of the sixth. That's winning baseball. That's also why Atlanta had scored the most runs (279) of anyone in baseball with 47 games under their belt heading into Monday.

To further accentuate that, in four of the five games since Albies has returned, the Braves have scored at least seven runs.

But except for when the Los Angeles Dodgers have reached the playoffs in recent years, good pitching has usually topped good hitting, which is why the Braves haven't been all that highly thought of for this postseason. The bullpen may be stellar, but the starting lineup — thanks partly to a season-ending injury to Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels' unavailability due to recovering from injury — has been a disaster, the majority of starting assignments ended before the fourth inning.

That may be changing at just the right moment, however.

If early reports out of Bravesville are true, Atlanta expects to start recently injured ace Max Fried (back spasms), Hamels and newly respectable pitchers Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright over the next few days. There's also talk that a reportedly beefed-up Mike Foltynewicz — supposedly having gained 15 much-needed pounds of muscle since being removed from the active roster in the season's first month — might return to the big club.

If all that comes to pass, if Hamels looks respectable in his possible Wednesday start, if Anderson and Wright can duplicate their weekend in Washington, the Braves just might have the makings of a true challenger to Dodger Blue come the postseason.

Again, Washington isn't the Washington of 2019. Of teams playing at least 45 games, the Nationals' 214 runs scored are the third most anemic in the National League. So even if Anderson threw a gem of a game in allowing one hit over seven scoreless innings on Saturday and Wright followed by allowing but three earned runs over six innings on Sunday, the starting pitching is still noticeably behind the hitting.

Still, as Atlanta skipper Brian Snitker told MLB.com after Sunday's 8-4 win over the Nats, "I like where we're at. We've had some really positive things happen over the past four days."

If those positives can continue over the next two weeks on both the mound and at the plate, the Braves might be more than a cinch to reach the postseason. They just might grind their way to the World Series for the first time since 1999.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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