Braves have comfortable lead, but now’s no time to get comfortable

These days for the Braves, playing faces are happy faces. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Let’s say Washington really digs in and the Braves clinch the division around the 21st of the month. For those in charge of rounding up the champagne and the ski goggles, that’s a Saturday home game against San Francisco. May want to put in that order now.

While we’re at it, let’s do some more planning. All this winning requires so much prep work.

So, you clinch that weekend and that leaves six games to play and 12 days to kill before the start of the National League Division Series (Oct. 3). How should the Braves count down these days and how might they balance the luxury of being able to rest players against the need to keep a good, sharp edge entering the postseason?

Ideally, they will run hard all the way to the finish. They have a winter to rest.

It’s working so well now – the Braves having won 10 of their past 11 and 18 of their past 21, a starting staff that’s auditioning daily for a place on the playoff rotation, the wondrous transformation of Josh Donaldson into Gene Kelly. (A “Singing in the Rain” reference for all those not on Medicare). That will be September’s great challenge, harnessing this pulsating energy and maintaining it right to the first pitch of postseason. Even when there may be no practical reason to play with great resolve the last week or so.

That’s what’s defined as a good problem.

Granted, even if they had a running start into last year’s postseason, the Braves likely would have been easily ousted by the Dodgers. They just weren’t complete enough to compete. Still, it would be in no way helpful for this team to do as that team did, lose four of its last five on the way to October.

There are reasons that the Braves might convince themselves to play with steely purpose all the way to the end, certain factors that might create the illusion of competitive tension.

They awoke today three games behind the Dodgers for the best record in all the National League, and all the home-field perks that entails. Catching them won’t be a simple matter and may not even be realistic given that their schedule is softer than peach fuzz (only five games left against teams with a winning record). But there is value in the chase.

The Braves are required to continue playing winning baseball if they would care to be the first 100-win team in this town since 2003. That’s a fine and worthy goal, especially for a bunch that had to watch this spring as Philadelphia and Washington were dominating the discussion. Nothing quite quiets the doubting mob like triple digits in the win column.

Then there is the very real intra-team competition for a meaningful place on the playoff spectrum. That, especially among the arms, should keep the pilot light lit.

And, really, just how much rest do the frontline players require at this stage? Consider that the schedule is kind down the stretch, with two off days over the season’s final six days. There is plenty of built-in cushion, no need to over-stuff the work week with further eider down.

Just one rule: No criticizing the fellow perched on the front step of the dugout if a player gets hurt doing only his job while in the course of a possibly “meaningless” game. If you want to minimize all risk, hire a nanny rather than a manager.

This bunch is having such a grand time now. Why would you even think about slowing the roll?