Two of the Nationals' last three losses have been in extra innings, both entirely preventable and thoroughly frustrating. Monday's 4-3 defeat against the Cubs, a 10-inning loss on a blustery night at Wrigley Field, came mostly because the Nationals failed to put the ball over the plate. John Lannan and Brian Bruney both walked in runs, and the Nationals' fifth chance to go two games over .500 ended like all the ones before it: with a loss.
On with Second Look, our day-after breakdown of the game;
Adam Dunn: The first baseman is starting to hit - he was 3-for-5 on Monday and has nine hits in his last 22 at-bats. He homered twice on Friday, and as locked in as he's looking at the plate, the homers will come. The Nationals need them, too; their 12 homers are 14th in the National League.
Tyler Walker: He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, keeping the game tied through the seventh and eighth innings. Walker has alternated solid outings with ugly ones, but with Bruney struggling, the Nationals need to get him going.
Nyjer Morgan: With a 2-for-5 day on Monday, Morgan extended his streak of multi-hit games to four. He's getting on base with such regularity that the Nationals' offensive struggles shouldn't be that hard to alleviate. Manager Jim Riggleman also gave Morgan the OK to slide headfirst on close plays after he'd been caught stealing four times already this year. Assuming he can stay healthy, that makes him all the more dangerous.
Brian Bruney: The issues with Bruney were well-defined when the Nationals traded for him during the Winter Meetings; he throws hard, but struggles with walks and can get into funks where it's difficult for him to control his fastball. Bruney has started the season in one of those funks. He's worked 10 1/3 innings, walked 12 batters and ended the game with a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk to Aramis Ramirez last night. His ERA is 5.59, and he's got a 1.966 WHIP. Asked what pitching coach Steve McCatty said to him during a mound meeting after Bruney got Ramirez to 2-0, Bruney said; "That's kind of privileged information, I think. I don't feel like you guys are privileged enough to know that. It's not you. I wouldn't tell anybody. That's between him and I. Just the same thing, throw a strike here. I was 2-0. That's pretty much all he can say."
Cristian Guzman: In addition to an 0-for-5 night at the plate, Guzman couldn't handle a twisting pop-up in the 10th inning, losing track of it in the wind and giving the Cubs a a bases-loaded situation with one out. "There is no situation like that unless you get a break," manager Jim Riggleman said, "and they got a couple breaks on a ground ball and a pop-up in the wind."
In Case You Missed It:
--Willy Taveras' throw home to nail catcher Geovany Soto at the plate in the second inning was a perfect example of why the Nationals kept the outfielder on their roster at the end of spring training; he caught Ryan Theriot's fly ball in right and threw a dart that took two low, quick hops before getting to Wil Nieves in perfect position. It was a textbook throw, and held the Cubs to two runs in an inning where John Lannan put five runners on base.
--The Nationals got an impressive play from Ian Desmond, who went deep in the hole to snare a Derrek Lee grounder and fired a strong one-hopper to first to end the fifth inning. Adam Dunn also made an nice pick of the throw.
--As good as those two defensive plays were, it was a couple of defensive miscues that set up the Cubs' three-run lead. Morgan misplayed a double by Ramirez in the second inning, overrunning it as it twisted back over his head in the wind and Ramirez drove in a run. And in the third, Guzman cut off Ian Desmond on a bouncer up the middle and thought about trying to get Geoff Baker at home before making a weak throw to first. Without those two plays and the walks, the Nationals might have been able to wipe a run or two off the board.
1. What would you do with Brian Bruney? It's clear he isn't the Nationals' top choice for the setup role right now - that's belonged to Tyler Clippard lately, and the only reason Clippard didn't pitch Monday is because of how much he's worked the last couple days. Do you put Bruney in middle relief until he gets things straightened out, keep him where he is or do something else?
2. Lannan is scuffling right now, walking five an outing after giving up 11 hits in six innings. Are you worried at all about him, or encouraged that he's kept the Nationals in games despite his struggles?
3. How soon would you get Drew Storen? He's been fighting a nasty case of strep throat the last couple days, and needs to build his arm strength back up, but he's going to throw strikes and attack hitters. Would you accelerate his arrival in the majors because of some of the bullpen problems, or stay the course with his development?
Leave your responses to the Talking Points questions in the comments. If you want to see a replay of last night's live thread, that's Twitter or check back here for updates.