The loss was the Nationals’ 12th in 16 meetings with Atlanta. The Braves have won six of the eight one-run games between the teams. They possess a seemingly insurmountable 15½-game lead in the NL East standings and only three more games between them remain. On the field, the Nationals’ fiercest rival has been undoubtedly better. But Nationals center fielder Denard Span refuses to believe there is that large of a gap between them.
“It just seems like they find a way to win,” Span said. “Even [Saturday] night, we were able to win, but they’ve broken our hearts time and time again. We’ve had the leads. I think they’ve probably come back at least four of those  wins, and that can crush a team. I haven’t played against a team like that in a while where they just have our number.”
If only it were that simple. The Nationals’ performance was, as right fielder Jayson Werth described earlier in the series, just good enough to lose. They hurt themselves with 11 stranded base runners on Sunday. They hit 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position on Sunday and 5 for 37 in the series.
“It’s not like we’re laying over and letting these guys walk all over us,” starter Gio Gonzalez said. “We’re fighting.”
Only 13 hours before Sunday’s first pitch, the Nationals completed their wildest game of the season. It featured three ejections. It lasted 5 hours 29 minutes. Every Nationals reliever was used and Tuesday’s scheduled starter, Dan Haren, earned the save in the 8-7, 15-inning win. So Sunday, the Nationals needed Gonzalez to deliver a strong performance. He did, but the team’s margin of error remained as slim as its playoff chances.
Gonzalez’s start began in troubling fashion against a Braves lineup that featured a handful of fill-ins. He walked the first batter he faced, B.J. Upton, who has a .269 on-base percentage. Upton then stole second base, which could have been prevented if Gonzalez had stepped off the rubber. Another Nationals weakness — holding runners on base — was exposed again.
Ahead 2-1 in the count, Phil Gosselin dropped a bunt down the third base line and beat the throw to first from third baseman Chad Tracy, who was playing for Ryan Zimmerman. Freddie Freeman lined the first fastball he saw into center field to score Upton from third base. Gonzalez induced a double play and nearly escaped the inning, but Chris Johnson flared a low and inside fastball to right field for a single to plate another run.