Must-win Sunday for Nats?

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Is there such a thing as a must-win game in baseball? Unless it’s late September and you’re one game back in the wild-card race, or unless you’re down 3-1 in a playoff series, no.

But I ask you: Is it possible tomorrow is a must-win game fo the Nats? Consider the facts. They’re now 0-5 after losing to the Braves 5-3 tonight at Turner Field. The home opener is Monday against the Phillies. Can this franchise really afford to take the field at Nationals Park sporting an 0-6 record?

The question was posed to a handful of players inside the Nats clubhouse after the game tonight. Pretty much everyone said the same thing: You want to win every game. No, you don’t want to be 0-6. But there are no must-win games in April.

Adam Dunn, though, came as close to declaring this do-or-die territory as you can get.

“We need to come out tomorrow and put all these last five games behind us and get a win,” he said. “I think tomorrow is a game we need to win.”

A couple of other tidbits from the postgame clubhouse…

— John Lannan knows it looked like he was jawing at first base ump Eric Cooper in the fourth inning tonight, but he insists he wasn’t. Lannan said he was mad at himself for getting over to cover first a step too late twice in the game. Cooper apparently thought the pitcher was yelling at him. Lannan tried to explain it after the next batter, but that didn’t seem to help matters so he walked away and let Manny Acta handle things.

— After jumping on Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami early on, the Nats folded the third time around the order. Several guys said that was a product of the Japanese right-hander mixing up his pitches effectively, keeping them off-balance with an assortment of fastballs, sliders and curveballs.

— Lastings Milledge, who did get upset at Cooper for a check swing third strike in the fourth, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He’s now 2-for-18 with an astounding 12 strikeouts on the season. Obviously this is getting to his head. Whether Acta takes him out of the lineup tomorrow probably depends entirely on the status of Elijah Dukes’ groin. If Dukes can’t go, Milledge probably starts in center field again (unless Acta wants to put Willie Harris out there, and Harris is struggling himself right now at the plate and in the field).

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Mark Zuckerman

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