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Posted at 02:03 PM ET, 08/11/2012

Playoffs getting closer for the Nationals and their surging offense


(Kathy Kmonicek - AP)
In his office last night, Manager Davey Johnson shrugged off the importance of the Nationals reaching 70 wins before any other team in majors. The round number did not appeal to him, but as the Nationals churn into the home stretch, he had a different figure in mind.

“We’re just getting to the fun time,” Johnson said. “The only thing I think about numbers is when you get to a certain point where you can play .500 ball and still win 95 games. Then you’re in pretty good shape.”

A few reporters could figure out off the top of their heads that the Nationals were pretty close to Johnson’s particular milestone. After they told Johnson, he smiled and said, “I think it’s 94.”

He knew: If the Nationals go 24-25 in their final 49 games, they’ll win 94 games. Every single team that has won 94 games since divisional play began would have made the postseason under the current format. The Nationals are getting close enough to the end of the season, and their record is good enough, that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger. The math is getting real.

“It’s starting to get more and more exciting,” second baseman Steve Lombardozzi said. “Each game counts more and more. We’re having fun right now. We’re playing good baseball. We want to keep it going.

“I don’t think it’s surprising at all. We’re taking the field every night feeling like we’re going to win this game. It’s definitely a good feeling. It’s definitely been fun.”

Last night, Michael Morse talked about the Nationals wearing “blinders,” and focusing only on the next game. A playoff push is something new to most of the players in the clubhouse, and it is certainly something different for the team.

“We just need to keep going,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think the minute we start thinking about that stuff is when we get in trouble. We just really go out and play every day and try to win that game. We understand that we’re going to go through a couple times where we lose two or three in a row and we’ve got to bounce back. But for now, we’re just going to keep going and keep winning and see what happens.”

Recently, the winning has been sparked by a deep lineup functioning at its highest point of the season. Jayson Werth’s return made the middle of the Nationals’lineup thicker, for lack of a better word, than it’s been all season. They are 9-0 when Werth has played, and in those nine games the Nationals have averaged 5.56 runs.

Werth’s hitting has made a difference by itself – he’s 12 for 30 with six walks and three doubles. But his effect has been cumulative, giving the Nationals another patient, dangerous hitter to drive up opposing starter pitch counts.

Morse’s surge has helped, too. He has recently been hitting like last year, when his slugging carried the Nationals’ offense and he ended up on the back end of a few MVP ballots. On the year, Morse is hitting .296/.319/.473. As the Nationals have gone 19-8 in their past 27 games, Morse has slugged .558. Each of the past two games, he’s hit a home run of preposterous distance.

“The stuff he does is stuff that normal people don’t usually do,” Zimmerman said. “When he’s healthy and he’s going, he’s one of the best power hitters in the game.”

The Nationals’ offense got a boost last night, too, from leadoff man Lombardozzi, who smacked four hits, including a triple. He said he had taken too many pitches the night before, and Johnson and hitting coach Rick Eckstein told him to be more aggressive.

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