The Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins begin their final series of the 2011 season this evening at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. Though the three-game set may seem void of any real significance, there's more to it than first meets the eye. For the Nationals, a win on Monday night would clinch third place in the National League east. The Nats are currently 78-80, a full 10 games behind the second place Braves in the loss column. It's worth noting that Washington will only play 161 games this year rather than 162, with the final game having been canceled. So, with a sweep of the Marlins, the Nationals would finish with their best record since making the move from Montreal to D.C. in 2005 (81-81). An 81-80 finish would also mark the franchise's first winning record since 2003 when the team won 83 games.
For Florida, the series is significant because it is the final one to be played at the sparsely attended Sun Life Stadium. It's no mystery that attendance at Marlins' games has been sparse. Losing hasn't helped, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
"If I was to say I'm sorry to see it go, I'd be lying -- big time," [Jeff] Conine said. "There are some good memories here for sure, but I won't shed a tear when we move."
If Sun Life Stadium doesn't ring a bell, it's because the park has gone by a number of other corporate sponsor names over the years -- Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium and now Sun Life Stadium.
"You're talking about the worst conditions," former Marlin Cody Ross said. "I remember we couldn't wait to go on the road."
That just about says it all right there. The Marlins will finally get their own stadium that won't be shared with the Miami Dolphins next year, when the team moves to a retractable-roof stadium that the organization hopes attracts new fans and allows the team to invest more in a winning product.
The Nationals don't seem to mind playing there. They've won eight straight at Sun Life Stadium. Left hander Tommy Milone (1-0, 3.23) will try to extend that streak and move Washington one step closer to a winning season Monday night. The Nats have won 12 of 15 and 11 of 14 against NL East opponents.
Here is the Nats' lineup for Game 1:
Desmond-SS, Ankiel-CF, Zimmerman-3B, Morse-LF, Werth-RF, Espinosa-2B, Marrero-1B, Ramos-C, Milone-P