It felt like a playoff game. The loss stung like a playoff game.

It felt like a playoff game being played between the two best teams in baseball in front of a sold-out crowd that was larger than Opening Day. Luckily, it was only mid-June, and this game only counted towards the regular season standings.

In the Nats playoff history, winning usually comes down to starting pitching, 9th inning reliever, timely hitting, defense and doing the little things right.

Gio Gonzalez‘s start last night ended just like the final game of the 2012 playoff game he started: a no-decision and a loss to the pitcher of record in the 9th inning against a team in the NL Central.

We speak often how Gio Gonzalez’s outings usually come down to how 1 or 2 mistakes snowball. Last night there were 2 big mistakes and 1 snowballed.

Gio was rolling into the 3rd inning as he had faced the minimum number of batters. The opposing pitcher John Lackey stepped into the batter’s box in that 3rd inning with 2 outs. Easy out, right? Lackey was batting exactly .100 when he stepped into the batter’s box. Gio pitched him 4 fastballs at 91 to 92mph. Didn’t show him the curveball. Lackey smacked Gio’s mistake pitch for a single.

gio to lackey 6 14 16

No big deal, right? Lackey on 1st base with no speed. Gio lost composure and quickly served up a double to Dexter Fowler to put Lackey at 3rd base and Fowler at 2nd base. Jason Heyward would step into the batters box with exactly a .200 lifetime batting average (7-35) at that exact point and time against Gio. Heyward roped a hard single in front of Bryce Harper to score both Lackey and Fowler.

Gio’s pitch count ballooned after Lackey as he had to throw an additional 16 pitches to get out of the 3rd inning. It all started with the hit by Lackey.

gio vs Cubs 6 14 16

Gio got out of the 3rd inning with a 2-0 deficit. In the 4th inning, the issue started off with the lead-off walk to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist eventually scored.

gio vs Cubs2 6 14 16

Gio’s issues can clearly be traced back to 2 mistakes. A single by the pitcher and a lead-off walk to Zobrist.

You can go back to Gio’s previous 5 starts and find 2 mistakes that have snowballed in almost every start. You can probably do that in Max Scherzer‘s starts also. The difference is usually how you limit the damage. After Lackey got the single, there was 2 outs, and Gio got rattled instead of concentrating on Fowler to get the 3rd out he hit a double. Gio still could have worked out of the 3rd inning unscathed with Fowler and Lackey on-base by getting out Heyward with 2 outs.   He did not.

Gio really was good in the 5th and 6th innings. He attacked the zone and left the game at 6 1/3 innings giving up 3 runs as his ERA went up to 3.96.

Sorry folks, it was not a great pitching performance by Gio Gonzalez unless you think 3 earned runs over 6 1/3 is great. It was a decent performance, but you also have to look at the little things. At a key point in the game, Gio could not execute a sacrifice bunt. In backing up at the plate, Gio once again did not get into position quick enough. Gio’s opposing pitcher gave up 2 runs officially (1 by his bullpen) but he also got the key hit for the Cubs and did everything else well to help his team win. Lackey wasn’t great in all facets of the game, but he out-did Gio.

gio backing up the play at the plate

Baseball in the National League is about pitching, defense, hitting, baserunning, and the little things.

The little things added up to a 4-3 loss.

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