The Braves led the National League East by two games at the close of business Aug. 31. They now lead by 6-1/2 games and are positioned to clinch the National League East with two more victories this weekend. Credit them for doing what needed doing, even as they've had a three-game losing streak and a four-game skid in September, a month that has seen them go 11-8. Credit them for also being in the right division.

If you saw Thursday’s game, you might rightly have wondered just how Philadelphia was in second place. (Though lately it hasn’t been a close second.) Vince Velasquez started for the Phillies. He was handed a 1-0 lead and spit it back in the bottom of the first. That inning saw the visitors do what they do worst, meaning bungle the handling of batted balls.

The go-ahead run came when Rhys Hoskins, who’s not really a first baseman, made a colossal gaffe by tagging first base on what could have been a 3-6-3 double play. By tagging first before recording the out at second, Hoskins removed the force at second, which allowed Nick Markakis – clever Nick! – to stop in his tracks and thereby allow Freddie Freeman to score from third base. There aren’t many times you can score when, with one out, you hit into a double play. This was such a time.

The rest of the night would continue apace. Aaron Altherr had a horrid game in left field. (Afterward Phillies manager Gabe Kapler conceded to reporters that Altherr's dallying might have allowed Dansby Swanson to stretch a seventh-inning hit into a double; Swanson would score the winning run on Lucas Duda's double.) Second baseman Cesar Hernandez couldn't glove Ender Inciarte's single in the eighth, which drove home the Braves' eighth and final run.

(That eighth inning began with Luis Garcia being asked to hold a one-run deficit. He faced four Braves. Two walked. The other two singled. By inning’s end, the score was 8-3. We around here have bemoaned the performance of the Braves’ bullpen; those in Philly have been doing the exact same thing.)

Officially the Phillies weren’t charged with an error. In truth, they left nearly a half-dozen makeable plays unmade. Velasquez also loosed a wild pitch that enabled Freeman to move from second to third, whereupon he scored the tying run in the third on Johan Camargo’s sacrifice fly.

For the Phillies, this was utterly in character. They rank next-to-last in the majors with 111 errors. They rank next-to-last in Ultimate Zone Rating. They rank last in Defensive Runs Saved. Given that they're also 12th in the National League in batting average and 10th in runs, it's a wonder they're above .500 – and there's still a chance they might finish 81-81 or thereabouts.

The Braves haven’t been great in September, but the teams allegedly chasing them have been worse. The Phillies are 6-12. (They’re 10-20 since Aug. 17.) Washington, which saw its elimination number pared to two in a 12-inning loss to the Mets last night, is 10-8 and is 77-76 on the season.

The Braves will win the East – their magic number is four with nine games remaining – because they’ve been much the best team in the East. Their competitors, however, could never be confused with those of the epic Septembers of ’91 and ’93. (We stipulate that there were no wild cards back then, not that anybody in the East is positioned to grab a wild card this time.) The Dodgers of Lasorda and the Giants of Bonds were most worthy foes.

We around here – and folks in Philly, too, once they get past their late-season disappointment – will recall this as the year two rebuilding clubs got better sooner than expected. Those in D.C. will forever wonder how the Nationals, with Scherzer and Strasburg and Harper and Rendon and Turner and Zimmerman and Eaton and now Soto, never made a run. That left the door ajar. The Phillies weren’t yet good enough to barge through it. The Braves were and have.

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