The way the Modesto Nuts are constructed this season, with a solid bullpen and adequate offensive weapons, their single key to consistency is starting pitching.
And they're not looking for perfection. Anything close to a quality start will give the Nuts a very good chance to win, as they've shown recently by winning six of seven.
So when a starter falls flat, as Kennil Gomez did in Wednesday's 10-3 loss to High Desert, it really stands out, and it tends to pull the rest of the team down for the fall.
Gomez (2-2) took two innings to spot his fastball, and by that time the Mavericks the top offensive club in the California League had built a 6-0 lead.
Modesto eventually would get a two-run homer from Helder Velazquez and a solo shot from Kyle Parker, but this one was over early.
"That start put it in a coma," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "We were flat to start and that made us flatter. Your momentum always comes from your starting pitcher, and he has to keep you in the game.
"It just wasn't a very good way to start the game. It put us behind the 8-ball and we ended up getting run over by that 8-ball. Had the first inning not happened that way I think we would have had a pretty good game and would have been able to do some things."
Gomez gave up a single, two walks and a two-out bunt single in the first inning, but it was parlayed into three runs thanks to two wild pitches, an outfield throwing error and Gomez's own throwing error that allowed the last two runs to score.
A leadoff walk in the second was followed by two singles, a triple and a double, and what little steam remained from a warm day at John Thurman Field evaporated into the evening sky.
"If we don't make that error in the first inning they score one run," Sakata said. "Then maybe they only get one or two in the second inning and we're still in the game. Defensively, that's exactly the way we played the first weeks of the season."
But over the last seven games, the starting rotation was showing the way.
In that streak, no Modesto starter had allowed more than three runs, and the only pitcher to go less than five innings was Juan Gonzalez, who on that particular night was on a four-inning limit.
Gomez had a role, holding Visalia to one run on five hits over 6º innings last Thursday, and over the run the starters compiled a 2.33 ERA.
Yes, it had appeared the Modesto rotation had turned a corner. But if it did, what it found ahead was just another corner to navigate.
Gomez left after five innings, trailing 7-2. Josh Mueller gave up two runs in 3ª innings of work, and Kraig Sitton got the final two outs after giving up a two-run homer to Denis Raben, the first hitter he faced.
Mavericks starter Cameron Hobson (6-3) notched a win for the fourth straight start and other than the Velazquez homer in the fourth was never really in danger during his seven innings of work.
Parker's homer, a solo shot off reliever Stephen Kohlscheen in the eighth, was his 12th of the season and third in as many games.
While it was an impressive blast that carried out just to the left of dead-center, Parker's homer did little to salvage a rare listless effort from a team that has played at a high level during the last month.
"For the first time in a long time we weren't in the game," Sakata said. "We hadn't played a game like that in a long time."