The Nationals' 9-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday didn't feature as many head-shaking moments as Saturday's 7-1 defeat, during which the team played one of its most undisciplined games of the year. But there were enough problems at the plate in both games that the Nationals left Florida much different than how they arrived.
They came in having won their last two games at Wrigley Field, and after thumping the Marlins 7-1 on Friday, they had a shot to tie the Mets for first place in the division. They left having been beaten soundly twice by one of their biggest agitators over the last two seasons. And, as outfielder Willie Harris put it, the Nationals were a little "pissed off."
"In the past, it'd be, 'It's alright, it's just another game,'" Harris said. "But now, it's different. We want to win right now, and that's what we're looking forward to."
Here's my story off Sunday's game, focusing on the damage done by the Nationals' 35 strikeouts over the weekend. And you can watch a replay of the live thread from the game here - there's a good discussion in there after the game about the nuts and bolts of sports journalism.
On with the awards for Sunday:
Ian Desmond: On another day when the Nationals could do little offensively, Desmond had one of the only blows that mattered. His second-inning double drove in Josh Willingham, put Willie Harris at third and gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Harris would score later in the inning on John Lannan's groundout. The Nationals had a 2-0 lead at that point, and they'd lose it on Hanley Ramirez's home run in the the third inning.
Willie Harris: Starting for the first time in a week after recovering from a bruised right knee, Harris did a nice job providing a little spark in the middle of the order, walking in the second inning, scoring a run and later contributing a two-out double in the sixth inning that moved Ryan Zimmerman to third.
Ryan Zimmerman: The offensive contributions were slim pickings again on Sunday, and Zimmerman, who had a double, a walk and a run, did about as much as anybody. He's hitting .370 with a .424 on-base percentage this year.
John Lannan: The Nationals' de facto ace is struggling to start the year; some would call it a regression to the mean, while Lannan pins it on a difficulty working the corners of the plate and keeping the ball down. He was 0-3 with a 4.61 ERA in April last year, so it's not the first time he's started slow. But he didn't take this long to pull out of it last year, and he'll need to soon. "Of course it's frustrating. I've got to keep on working on it. I'm not going to give up," Lannan said. "It's a long season. It's only been six starts. I've got to keep going."
Brian Bruney: His first inning was impressive; Bruney pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, getting two called strikeouts. But he walked three more batters in the eighth, allowed three hits and was pulled for Matt Capps. He's walked 15 batters in 13 innings this season; his WHIP is 2.308, and his ERA is 6.23. The Nationals have a number of relievers at Triple-A Syracuse, Drew Storen now among them, so Bruney needs to get things turned around soon.
Adam Kennedy: The second baseman is now hitting .214 after an 0-for-5 day on Sunday. He's managed to drive in 11 runs, so he's producing when there are men on base, but Kennedy hasn't provided much of an offensive spark otherwise.
In Case You Missed It:
--Nyjer Morgan was actually caught stealing in the first inning, taking second on Josh Johnson's throwing error. But had Johnson not made the error, Morgan would have been out, and as it is, he's been caught stealing five times already this year.
--Morgan also missed a cutoff man again on Gaby Sanchez's single to center in the third inning. Brett Carroll went to third on the play, though he probably would have made it there anyway, and it didn't matter after Hanley Ramirez homered on the next at-bat. But Morgan has airmailed cutoff men several times this year, and there will be times where it leads to runs.
--Lannan drove in a run on a groundout in the second inning; it was just the second RBI of his career and his first since 2007.
1. What's wrong with Lannan? Did you expect him to regress to the mean, as it were, or do you see a pitcher who's better than this and just struggling right now? As I've said before, Lannan is one of the most studious pitchers I've been around; he's quick to pinpoint what's not working and fix it. But he's also not sharp enough to make these kinds of mistakes and get away with them. What's your take on where he goes from here?
2. We've seen a lot of "aggressive mistakes," as Jim Riggleman would call them, from Nyjer Morgan lately. Are those just a cost of doing business with him? Are they something he needs to curtail, or do you not want him changing the way he plays?
3. Do the strikeouts bother you? As I discussed in the game story (link above), a fair number of them came when a more productive out would have helped the Nationals score a run. But they also helped run up Josh Johnson's pitch count on a day where he was rolling after the first couple innings. Let me know how you feel about those.
Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions in the comments section, and we can bat those topics around this afternoon.