If the Braves do, in fact, capture the National League East this season for the first time since 2005, it will be due largely to the work that Tim Hudson has done down the stretch.
With a stellar month of August on the mound, Hudson has continued his Cy Young-caliber season and earned National League Pitcher of the Month honors, joining the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, named Player of the Month, as August's NL honorees.
Hudson turned in a nearly perfect August, going 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA to help the Braves build their current three-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East. The veteran struck out 35 batters during the month, while walking only nine.
"What a guy to have," manager Bobby Cox said.
Hudson also set some personal history this month, notching his 1,500th career strikeout in a win over the Marlins. The milestone caught Hudson somewhat by surprise.
"I don't consider myself a strikeout pitcher, so a milestone like that is something I'm proud of," Hudson said. "I didn't even know I was coming close to 1,500 strikeouts until the fans started cheering. I thought, 'What the heck is going on?'
"It was pretty cool. The reaction of the fans was awesome. I had goose bumps out there, and that doesn't happen to me very often."
Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Hudson continues to put together a stellar campaign that will likely garner some Cy Young attention. With a strong August, the right-hander lowered his ERA to 2.24.
As good as Hudson has been though, he didn't have to face the hottest hitter in the league in the past month in Pujols. The All-Star first baseman had been turning in a solid campaign, but in August he put on the burners, batting .379 with 11 homers and 23 RBIs. His big August has placed him in contention for the coveted Triple Crown.
"[The Triple Crown is] just tough," Pujols said. "You've just got so much talent in this game. For you to do something like that, you have to stay hot all year long, since Day 1. That's pretty impossible to do. I think the only guy that I can recall is Tony Gwynn, that from Day 1 he was on fire until the end of the season. And even he would probably tell you that he threw some at-bats away. It's pretty tough."
But like Hudson, Pujols arrived at a special personal milestone in August that merited pause. The 29-year-old slugger hit his 400th career home run on Aug. 26, becoming the first player to reach that mark in his first 10 seasons in the big leagues.
"It's pretty special, obviously," Pujols said. "It's a really special milestone that you reach. But I don't play for numbers. My goal as a little boy was to try to do whatever I can to be a professional baseball player, and the Cardinals gave me the opportunity. God allowed me to have the opportunity, which I thank Him for that."
While Pujols and Hudson could merit serious hardware consideration after the season, neither is letting himself think past September.
"I would never think about [the Triple Crown]," Pujols said. "You know why? Because I've been doing the same thing that I've been doing all year long. I'm seeing the ball better now. But this isn't about chasing something. This is about winning and trying to get ourselves a spot in the playoffs."
Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.