The Washington Times - June 15, 2012, 06:34PM

The Nationals’ players are not usually fond of talking about one series as if it’s bigger than another. Part of that is from their manager, whose favorite saying is that he manages for today with an eye on tomorrow. And another part of it is an effort not to get too high or too low over the course of a long, exhausting season. 

And if there’s any team or organization that has shown how to do that well for a long time, it’s the New York Yankees. Consistency has been a New York staple for as long as most Nationals’ players can remember so as they go into Friday night’s matchup as one of two first-place teams that will be on the field at Nationals Park, it provided a good time for some introspection.

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A popular question the last few days has been whether or not the Nationals are “excited” to face the Yankees. On the whole, the answer has been “sure, but no more excited than we are to face any other team.”

But Friday afternoon, Ryan Zimmerman expanded on that thought.

“We get excited after we win that day,” Zimmerman said. “I think we’ve always been taught. Baseball’s a long season. If you get too excited about one week it doesn’t do you any good. They don’t care. The Yankees don’t care that we went on the road and swept six games. We shouldn’t care, because it’s not going to do us any good tonight that we did that last week.

“I think that’s the biggest team that this team has, we’ve been very even-keeled. We’re young, and inexperienced in winning, I guess you could say. So we’re learning on the fly. But I think all of us, with our attitudes and our mentalities, we don’t get too high or too low. We understand what we’ve done. It’s great for the city. It’s better than being 15 games under .500 which I’ve been. We understand. But we also know it’s a long season and we’ve got a long ways to go.”

Facing the American League East (and dominating the way they have been), though, is a big part of getting them to where they need to be. As Johnson noted Friday, the Nationals don’t consider themselves, in the war anyway, to be competing against the Yankees. In the battle this weekend, sure. But in the war, they’re fighting the National League East and trying to win the NL Pennant. 

But playing the top competition to get there can only help, especially if you’re winning.

“To go up against the best — which I think our division or the American League East are the best divisions in baseball — there’s not going to be any let-up on anybody you play in that division. It just tests your merit.”

“(The Nationals players) are competitors,” he added. “They’re good athletes and competitors. You always like to measure yourself against the best. And I think that’s the true yardstick of where you’re at at any given point in time. So why not? Challenges are the spice of life, as far as I’m concerned. And this is just another challenge.”

Still, it was evident from early afternoon that this series, this weekend would be different. The Nationals are expecting sell-out or near sell-out crowds all weekend and there was a heightened buzz going around all day. 

The Nationals know they’ve come a long way, and still have a long road ahead. But as they look out to the field in mid-June, they’re in first place. They’re the second most winningest team in baseball and the New York Yankees are in their house trying to see what all the fuss is about. It could be worse.

“To us every series is the same,” Zimmerman said, asked if this was indeed the most anticipated series in the team’s history. “I know that sounds boring and cliche but that’s how it is. I think for our fans and our city and for them to have something to look forward to, I think this would be it. It’s great. There’s nothing bad about it. This is where you want to be. You want to be on a team that’s winning and has a chance to make the playoffs, this is, I assume, what it’s like.”