As Matt Williams explained after Nationals swept the New York Mets to go 6.0 games up in the division on Thursday, however, the Nats are taking nothing for granted.
"We've seen in recent years, it doesn't mean anything," he said of a lead in mid-August. "All it means is that we have to work harder. And make sure that we take care of our games and play well. So that's our objective."
After the Nationals' beat the Pirates on Friday, the first-year skipper was asked once again if he got any sense that the players were aware of the situation they find themselves in and focused on the opportunity that lies ahead if they're able to maintain their lead?
"Right now they refuse to do that," Williams said. "And that's a really good sign. We need to win tomorrow and we don't look past that and we can't. We can't afford to look past anything that's not right in front of our face.
"They had a long night last night and they'll get some rest tonight, some much-needed rest and see if we can come out tomorrow and win again, but we don't look any further than that."
As Williams has stressed throughout his first year as manager, they don't look back either.
"We need to play tomorrow and good, bad or indifferent," he explained, "we'll forget about that one tomorrow and look forward to the next day, but we don't go any further than that."
Gio Gonzalez would probably like to forget his last outing, against the Braves last weekend in Atlanta, which saw the 28-year-old left-hander give up six hits, four walks and two earned runs in 4 ⅔ IP over which he threw a total of 111 pitches.
Gonzalez was on the DL with shoulder inflammation when the Nationals visited Pittsburgh's PNC Park in the third week of May, so he'll be facing the Pirates for the first time this season tonight in Nats Park.
In the 28-year-old left-hander's last three starts, he's posted a 6.91 ERA with 20 hits and 11 earned runs allowed in 14 ⅓ IP in which opposing hitters have put up a .323/.391/.435 line against him.
Can Gonzalez bounce back against a Pirates team that has put up a .248/.317/.359 line against left-handers this season?
• Here's the lineup that will back Gonzalez up in the second game of three with the Pirates: