Ask Washington southpaw Gio Gonzalez why the Nationals have been so successful this season, and he'll give you a two-word answer: Mike Rizzo, the team's general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations.
"He's the mastermind behind all of this," Gonzalez said. "He's the one that kind of got it going for us. When he put that together, when he put Edwin Jackson in the mix and then you got Jordan Zimmermann, who's been doing unbelievable, Ross Detwiler who's been incredible and then all of a sudden you've got Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and the outfield. Everyone's been doing their part."
"You've been seeing the starting pitching going out there and attacking the hitters. And the hitting, it's been unbelievable. I think the chemistry has been going great."
And with a 62-42 record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League East entering play on Friday, how could it not be?
"It definitely has to do with the team playing together and working together," Gonzalez said. "It's one day where the hitting comes in and picks us up, and then the pitching does that, and there's days when we work together.
"When you get that kind of chemistry and the kind of work we're putting in together, it's all contributing to teamwork. We definitely want to continue to success we are having, not only for DC, but also for the fans that come out and see us."
Gonzalez is, more so now than ever before, committed to the Nationals. That, too, he owes to Rizzo, who signed him in the offseason to a five-year, $42 million contract extension. The new deal came on the heels of his acquisition by Washington in a six-player deal with Oakland.
"When I got traded over here, Mike Rizzo didn't want to take any time and just went straight to the bull and decided to sign me to a long-term deal," Gonzalez said. "He didn't even question my ability. And I told him I'm going to do whatever it takes to win a title."
Speaking of titles, Gonzalez's answer to the inevitable question was one of cautious optimism, with the word "but" sprinkled liberally throughout.
Said Gonzalez: "We all dream big. But we aren't going to think that far ahead. But one step at a time. But there's nothing wrong with thinking big."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.