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Now 20 games over .500, Nats reaching new heights

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Now 20 games over .500, Nats reaching new heights

Remember that blown 9-0 lead to the Braves exactly one week ago? That debacle of a ballgame that left some wondering whether the Nationals' charmed season was about to go down the toilet?

Feels like a long time ago, doesn't it?

In the week since, the Nationals have gone 6-1, losing only the opener of Saturday's doubleheader. They've seen their pitching staff produce seven consecutive quality starts, none of those member of the rotation having allowed more than two earned runs. They've scored an average of 5.7 runs per game. They've increased their lead in the NL East to five games. They sit 20 games above .500 for the first time since the franchise arrived in Washington. And, at 59-39, they own the best record in baseball along with the New York Yankees.

We've moved past the point where anyone should consider this a fluke. Guess what, folks: These guys are for real, and they aren't done yet.

Last night's 8-2 thumping of the Brewers certainly lifted the Nationals to a nice, new plateau. They've won six in a row, matching their longest winning streak of the season. And they earned their 59th win in Game No. 98. Three years ago, it took 162 games for this franchise to achieve its 59th win.

The Nationals also ascended to 20 games over .500, a mark not before seen during the franchise's eight seasons in town. In fact, to find the last Washington baseball club that sat 20 games over .500, you've got to go all the way back to Sept. 23, 1945, when manager Ossie Bluege's Senators beat the Philadelphia A's 4-3 on the season's final day to finish 87-67.

All of that is nice. For a town that hasn't experienced anything like this in 67 years, it's obviously reason to rejoice.

But this is just the beginning. There isn't one player inside the Nationals' clubhouse satisfied with what they've accomplished to date. The manager feels the same way. Once his team got to 15 games over .500, Davey Johnson said the goal was to get to 20 games over. And now that the Nats have done that, Johnson surely is looking to make it 25 games over.

The season is still only 60 percent complete, with a whole lot of baseball left to be played. And the pressure only grows as each passing day's game carries more and more significance.

The Nationals have done a remarkable job climbing to heights not seen in these parts in three generations.

But they know better than anyone how much more climbing there still is to be done.

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Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wade Davis struck out batting leader Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end Washington's ninth-inning rally, and the Chicago Cubs held off the Nationals 5-4 Monday night.

In jeopardy of being shut out for the first time this season, the NL East-leading Nationals scored four times in the ninth. Their comeback began against Hector Rondon and continued when Davis entered.

MORE: CSN'S UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

With Washington down 5-3, Bryce Harper's single loaded the bases with two outs. Davis threw a wild pitch that scored a run before striking out a swinging Zimmerman, who's hitting .344. The final pitch bounced, and catcher Willson Contreras zipped a low throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to close out the victory.

Contreras hit a leadoff home run in his first career game-opening at-bat and Eddie Butler (4-2) worked five scoreless innings to keep the Cubs ahead.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Jansen went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great.

It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE