The Washington Times - September 14, 2012, 03:55PM

ATLANTA — As early as just a week ago, this series looked like it was going to be one of the most pivotal the Washington Nationals have played this season. It looked like the division would be decided here at Turner Field this weekend.

But the Nationals and Braves have been on divergent paths the last few days. While the Nationals were in New York sweeping the Mets, the Braves were in Milwaukee getting swept by the Brewers. A 5 1/2-game lead turned into an 8 1/2-game one and the stakes suddenly lowered a good deal. Even if the Nationals get swept this weekend, a series in which they’ll be on national television twice, they’ll still have at least a 5 1/2-game lead when they head home. 

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That likely hasn’t changed their outlook.

The Nationals have an opportunity here to not only practically sew up the divisional crown but to do something they’ve never done in their eight-year existence: clinch a playoff spot. It’ll take at least two wins and the help of a few other teams jockeying for the Wild Card, but the Nationals’ magic number to clinch at least a spot in the postseason is down to four. 

Simply because they have a larger lead in the division than they’ve had at any point this year, it’s doubtful they’ll ease up now.

“We know it’s going to be two good pitching staffs going head to head,” said left-hander Sean Burnett, who returned after a 10-day rest period for his elbow and got his feet wet on Wednesday before this weekend matchup. “Runs are scarce. We’re looking to go in there and make a statement.”

“We’ve got a big series coming up Friday,” added manager Davey Johnson. “And we need to show them we’re supposed to be where we’re at.”

Michael Morse is out of the Nationals lineup, as expected, as he continues to allow a bone bruise and torn sheath in his left wrist to heal. The Nationals were hoping he could take batting practice today to give them a gauge of where he’s at.

Here are the full lineups as Ross Detwiler and Kris Medlen face off:

Nationals

Jayson Werth RF
Bryce Harper CF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam LaRoche 1B
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Roger Bernadina LF
Kurt Suzuki C
Ross Detwiler P

Braves

Reed Johnson CF
Martin Prado LF
Jason Heyward RF
Chipper Jones 3B
Freddie Freeman 1B
Dan Uggla 2B
David Ross C
Andrelton Simmons SS
Kris Medlen P