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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

Good news: The toughest part is behind the Braves

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B.J. Upton can't believe he struck out. Because he never strikes out. (Al Behrman/AP)

B.J. Upton can’t believe he struck out. Because he never strikes out. (Al Behrman/AP)

The worst of the schedule is behind them, and the Atlanta Braves are a game behind San Francisco for the second wild card. That’s the good news. Less cheery is the realization that, having fallen eight games behind Washington with 31 remaining, they could sweep the final six games against the Nats and still not nose ahead.

Bottom line: The sequence of 25 games that began July 29 and saw the Braves play 18 times against plus-.500 opposition — and Cincinnati, against which the run ended, only recently fell below .500 — didn’t break them. They lost the first eight of those games and 12 of the first 15, but they finished the four weeks 11-15. Not great, no. But, all things considered, not out-and-out terrible.

Of the final 31 games, nine will come against teams that hold a winning record. (The Miami Marlins keep rising above .500 and falling back.) The Giants have 12 games remaining against plus-.500 teams; the Cardinals and Pirates each have 13, including six against each other. That’s a small difference, but it is a difference.

Baseball Prospectus gives the Braves a 44.4 percent shot of making the playoffs, up from 20.9 percent 12 days ago. BP also projects the Braves to finish 85-77, which probably won’t be good enough. Even while going 4-3 in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, they let two winnable games slip and had a chance against Jonathan Broxton, in to close because Aroldis Chapman was unavailable, at the end Sunday. After 131 games, that pretty much describes these Braves: They’re not bad enough to discount altogether, but they’re not quite good enough to inspire complete confidence in anyone, from Frank Wren on down.

A week before Labor Day, the Braves are all but out of contention in the National League East but very much in the playoff chase. That’s not as good as they’d have have hoped, but it’s not nearly as bad as we’d feared.

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