(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals‘ ace and 21-game winner, will prepare for Game 5 as he normally would. The left-hander will be watching Thursday’s game from the dugout, feeling the same uncertainty as the rest of his teammates. If the Nationals stave off elimination in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Gonzalez will be handed the ball in a winner-take-all game on Friday.

“I don’t know if I’m going to have one [more start] or not, but that’s exactly what I was talking about, we have to try to get to that Game 5,” he said, the day before his potential start. “We have to try to give every single one of these guys a chance to go out there and pitch.”

Even though the Cardinals hammer left-handed pitching, having Gonzalez on the mound for a potential series-clinching game is the ideal scenario. In a rotation with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez was the team’s leading starter. He led the team in fewest walks and hits allowed per inning, total innings pitched, lowest earned run average and is one of the leading contenders for the National League Cy Young Award.

In his first start of the series on Sunday, and first-ever postseason outing of his career, Gonzalez was affected by the chillier weather, the magnitude of the situation and a long layoff in between starts. This potential next time, he will be starting on regular five days rest, at home and with the experience of facing the Cardinals fresh in his mind.

“It was my first post‑season game, no excuses, but the way I see it is playing in someone else’s house, pretty rowdy,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting. You catch yourself at the moment, take a step back and take a deep breath and try to find it again.”

Gonzalez’s command was shakier on Sunday than it ever has been this season, issuing a season-high seven walks. But amazingly, in 110 pitches, he allowed only one hit and two runs. “At the same time, I kept my team in the game as long as possible,” he said. “I gave them five good innings and I gave them two earned runs. All said and done, with all that damage, you look at it for what it was, kept the team in the game.

“Same thing with [Cardinals starter Adam] Wainwright, he kept his team in the game he went five and two‑thirds and one earned run. You look at it as we both went out there and competed and you learn from it and you make adjustments and you go out there and attack the strike zone.”

At home this season, Gonzalez’s ERA is 2.38, nearly a run less than on the road. And even though the Cardinals are right-handed heavy and hit left-handers hard, he allowed right-handers to hit only .199 off of him this season. The rest of the Nationals’ playoff fate, however, rests solely in the hands of Wednesday’s starter Ross Detwiler. Gonzalez will anxiously watch and wait.

“You have to try to win Game 4 to get to Game 5,” Gonzalez said. “This conversation would not be happening if we were not going to be having Game 5. I think that this is where we have to come out, you know, right off the bat.  We have to set a statement right after the bat that there will be a Game 5.”

And if so, it’ll be his turn.