Let's start this off with a show of hands: If you thought the Nats would sweep last night's double header in Atlanta, raise your hand. Now, everyone who thought the Nats would get swept in last night's double header in Atlanta, raise your hands. Now, the rest of you, who thought the Nats would split last night's double header in Atlanta, raise your hands. Ok, now if [NE] counted correctly, most of you thought the Nats would split last night's double header. You're a reasonable bunch; cautiously optimistic, maybe to a fault. Those of you who thought the Nats would get swept, well, you're all a bunch of cranky pessimists. Those of you who thought the Nats would sweep the Braves last night, well, you've probably been spending too much time reading Thomas Boswell.
The Nationals celebrated manager Frank Robinson's 70th birthday by splitting yesterday's doubleheader against the Braves, guaranteeing that they can do no worse than a split in the four game trip to Atlanta. In the first game of the doubleheader, the Nats were unable to overcome a bad start by Esteban Loaiza (4.1 IP, 7H, 5ER, 4BB), losing 5-3. In the nightcap, the Nats prevailed in a 4-3 nailbiter, with Brad Wilkerson scoring the winning run after stealing third base in the 9th and scampering home on an errant throw by Braves' catcher Brian McCann. It seems fitting that the second game was decided by a bit of heads-up, if not daring, play on the bases by Brad Wilkerson, after two potential rallies were snuffed out by base running blunders earlier: In the first game, with one out and two on in the 8th inning, trailing 5-3, Jose Guillen got picked off first base. In the second game, Wilkerson was thrown out trying to steal third base in the 3rd inning when he failed to slide, thinking that a (late) called third strike on Nick Johnson was ball four. All is forgiven.
At the end of the day, the Nats lost a tiny bit of ground in the race for the Wild Card; they started the day trailing both Florida and Philadelphia by a game and a half. With Florida's loss to St. Louis last night, and Philly's win over the Mets, the Phillies jump to the head of the pack, with the Nats trailing by two games. Regardless of what happens tonight when Tony Armas Jr. and his sore shoulder take the hill against John Smoltz, baseball fans in the District are about to get a real taste of playoff-intensity baseball this weekend when the Phillies come to town for a three game tilt.
With the calendar turning from August to September today, rosters expand from 25 to 40, so look for reinforcements to begin arriving over the course of the next week. First up is highly touted prospect Ryan Zimmerman, who is slated to join the big club today. According to MLB.com, the Nationals plan to start Zimmerman off slowly, so don't look for him to see significant playing time right away -- unless, of course, Castilla gets hurt or the bottom falls out of the Nats season in the next week or so.
The arrival of Deivi Cruz marks the end of the road for Cristian Guzman as the Nats' starting shortstop. Cruz, who hit .268 with 5HRs and 19 RBI and a .301 OBP in 81 games this season with San Francisco (compared to Guzman's .192 3HR 19RBI .233 OBP in 116 games), will be a welcome breath of fresh air in the lineup. But you've gotta wonder a little bit about the timing. No doubt about it, this is a good move for the final month of the season, but why didn't Bowden try to pull the trigger on deal for a player of Cruz's caliber (decent) and salary (low) back in July at the trade deadline, or even two weeks ago, when it was painfully obvious that Guzman wasn't going to turn things around? Why did it take this long to make a move?
More useless information: When 47-year-old Julio Franco faced 23-year-old Chad Cordero in the 9th inning of the second game last night, it occurred to [NE] that Franco is so old, he's closer in age to Frank Robinson (23 years age difference) than Cordero (24 years age difference). Think about that for a minute...
(AP Photo by Gregory Smith)