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Posted at 07:30 AM ET, 07/06/2012

The Nationals’ next goal: 20 games over .500


Earlier this week, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson revealed one of his goals for this team. After beating the San Francisco Giants, 9-4, on Wednesday and matching their then-high watermark of the season at 15 games over .500, Johnson explained that that wasn’t enough.

“I guess it’s my math background,” he said. “I like to go by fives. We got to 15 before and we dropped back. I like to progress. The next number I like to get is 20 games over. I always go by fives. Not just because I’m wearing five. I like to think in fives. That tells me that we continue to play good and we’re continuing to win more than we lose.”

The Nationals swept the Giants with a wild 6-5 walkoff win, pushing the Nationals to their highest point of the season, 16 games over .500. And now, the lowly Colorado Rockies come to town for a three-game series beginning Friday. The team tied for the worst winning percentage in the majors may be just the team to help send the Nationals closer to that 20-game over .500 goal.

The Nationals have a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL East, nearing their highest margin of the season. In mid-June, they were five games ahead of second. The last the Nationals were not in first place was a five-game stretch in late May they quickly climbed out of. The closest this team was .500 was the first week of the season. Now, they continue to push ahead with the National League’s best record and are approaching the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, who have the best two records in the majors, respectively, by a sliver. The league is noticing.

“We played Texas and Anaheim,” Giants second baseman Ryan Theriot said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Those are two really good teams. In my mind, these [Nationals] are right up there.”

Of course, all of this success, nearing the midpoint of the season, can send a fan’s mind wandering ahead to October. Winning a series from the Giants, another first-place team, means something doesn’t it? Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman offered a more measured response earlier this week.

“We have a good team and we know we have a chance to do something special,” he said. “But we also know that it’s July, and nothing’s ever been won in July. We just have to keep — as stupid as it sounds — literally take it one day at a time and don’t get too caught up in it. But at the same time understand why we’re at this point. What we’ve done has worked. Even if we go through a skid or something like that, we need to continue to do the things that have gotten us to this point.”

But consider this: In the past 10 seasons, 37 teams finished July 5 with a .595 winning percentage or better, and 34 of them would have made the postseason under the current playoff design, which for the first time includes a second wild-card berth.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals trailed 5-1 at one point and scored two in the ninth to win on Adam LaRoche’s RBI groundout to win 6-5.

Nationals should take no chances with Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit, writes Thomas Boswell.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Storen, Tracy rehab in Potomac

Storen will ease back into bullpen

Werth to start swinging bat after break

Radio days at Nats Park

Harper a firefighter?

Clown T-shirt, bro

No all-star vote for Harper

Jackson finds his velocity again

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Buffalo 9, Syracuse 8: Outfielder Jesus Valdez hit a grand slam and catcher Carlos Maldonado smacked a solo home run. The Chiefs emptied their bench, using 22 players in the 14-inning loss.

Harrisburg 8, Bowie 6: Second baseman Jeff Kobernus, catcher Sandy Leon and first baseman Justin Bloxom each drove in two runs.

Potomac 14, Frederick 3: Drew Storen started and pitched a scoreless, 1-2-3 inning. Chad Tracy went 0 for 2 and started at third base. Catcher David Freitas hit two home runs and drove in five runs.

Hagerstown 10, Lexington 8: First baseman Brett Newsome drove in four runs with a 2-for-5 performance and second baseman Cutter Dykstra went 2 for 5 with two doubles.

Auburn 10, Lowell 1: Designated hitter Carlos Alvarez and first baseman Shawn Pleffner each drove in two runs.

By  |  07:30 AM ET, 07/06/2012

 
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