September 9, 2005 [LINK]

Do or die for the Nationals

The series against the Braves at RFK Stadium this weekend will be the acid test to see whether the Nationals are still up to the task of fighting for a postseason berth. Tonight's game got off to a bad start, as Esteban Loaiza allowed two runs in the top of the first, but the Nats responded with a run in the bottom of the inning, even without getting any hits! "Moral victories" in close games (such as August 20 against the Mets) and managing splits in series against tough opponents (such as two weeks ago against the Braves) are no longer good enough. The shaky start by John Halama on Wednesday and the unlikelihood that ailing Tony Armas will start again this season have exposed a major weak spot in the Nationals' arsenal: a thin rotation. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell takes a hard look at the stiff uphill challenge facing the new darlings of Our Nation's Capital:

Looking back, after 141 games, it's almost certain that the flame was worth the candle. For many years, Washington's inaugural season will be remembered as a stunning success and the crowds at RFK Stadium, which surpassed expectations, will no doubt attract new ownership with deep pockets and big dreams. But the last 21 games of this season, unless the 72-69 Nationals summon all their remaining pride to finish above .500, may not be easy on the eyes.

UPDATE: The Nationals tied the game in the fourth inning, 2-2, but then the prodigious Andruw Jones hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning, creating a four-run lead that will be very hard for the low-run-producing Nats to erase. The proverbial "fat lady" is rehearsing in her dressing room...

UPDATE: It's "Do!" Oaxaca native Vinny Castilla homered (solo) in the seventh, and both Brad Wilkerson and Jose Guillen drove in two runs each with clutch doubles in the eighth inning, tying the game, and then taking the lead, 8-6. Reliable closer Chad Cordero got all three Braves batters out in the ninth inning, saving one of the most crucial games this season. O me of little faith! Once again, the Nationals are not dead yet!

Niece on TV in Denver?

If you happen to live where tonight's Diamondbacks-Rockies game at Coors Field is being broadcast, you may be able to see my sweetheart of a niece, Rachel, along with a group of Girl Scouts doing the pregame flag presentation ceremony. She's the cute redhead with freckles and glasses.

U.S. Cellular photos

Thanks to Bill Blake for sending more photos of U.S. Cellular Field, which is likely to see a lot of postseason action next month. I've also digitally tweaked the existing photos on that page, adding sharper definition.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ian Scott for letting me know that the center field bleachers in soon-to-be-demolished Busch Stadium (II) had actual bench seats, meaning that the quotation marks I had used around the word bleachers were inappropriate. There are a few other e-mail alerts I've received from helpful fans that I haven't gotten to yet, so thanks for your patience.