On Monday night, the Washington Nationals played against another National League division leader, the Milwaukee Brewers. Unlike the Nationals, who many analysts predicted to be the NL East Champions before the season, the Brewers were, for the most part, expected to finish towards the bottom of what appeared to be a loaded NL Central. But, here we stand on June 24th, and the Brewers still hold a 4.5 game lead over the second-place St Louis Cardinals—thanks in large part to a dominant offense and a steady pitching corps.
On Monday night, the Nationals showed they’re still the class of the NL, despite the emergence of this young and hungry Milwaukee team.
The game started off full of missed opportunities for both sides offensively. In the top of the second inning, the Nationals loaded the bases with no one out against Brewers right hander Matt Garza (4-5). Unfortunately, both Jose Lobaton and Danny Espinosa struck out against Garza, and Gio Gonzalez grounded out to end the threat. After the inning, Matt Williams came out of the dugout to argue with home plate umpire Mark Wegner that the called third strike on Espinosa was outside. After Williams vehemently argued his point, Wegner tossed him, earning the Nats manager his first ejection as skipper.
In the top of the third inning, the Nationals came out fired up by their manager’s ejection. Anthony Rendon led off the inning with a walk, and a Jayson Werth single to right field set up an at bat for Adam LaRoche with two runners on. LaRoche worked the count full before blasting a Garza slider over the center field fence for a 3-0 lead.
That decisive blast gave Gonzalez (4-4) all the support he would need on this night. In a game in which he didn’t have the best feel for either of his two primary pitches—his fastball and his curveball—Gio relied heavily on his changeup.
His usage of the pitch threw a righty-heavy Brewers lineup off balance for the majority of the night. Gio escaped his only real jam in the third inning, when he induced a weak fly ball to left off the bat of Carlos Gomez to escape a bases loaded threat.
In all, the Nationals lefty pitched six innings of shutout ball, allowing only three hits. Tyler Clippard struck out the side in the ninth inning for his first save of the year. With the Atlanta Braves idle on Monday night, the victory extended the Nationals’ division lead to a full two games.