When the Washington Nationals started their third season in the nation’s capital in 2007, baseball wasn’t an exciting thing to talk about.
The Nationals already had two mediocre seasons under their belt after bringing baseball back to Washington, while the Baltimore Orioles were an afterthought in baseball circles.
Now, just a decade later, both the Nats and O’s have a chance to win their respective divisions on the same night.
The Nationals, who were predicted (again) by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series, have surged to an 11.5 game lead in the NL East, thanks to a recent 10-game winning streak. The Orioles have been leading the AL East for the majority of the season and their 12.5 game lead over Toronto is the largest division lead in baseball.
Both teams have won in different ways and after tonight’s action; both could be playoff-bound.
Baltimore has been dealing with the aftermath of the Chris Davis suspension for testing positive for amphetamines, while also playing without Manny Machado and Matt Wieters due to injury. Their pitching staff this season has been outstanding despite the lack of household names.
Ace Chris Tillman has done an outstanding job anchoring the staff, while Wei-Yin Chen has an impressive 16-4 record.
The team also found their closer in former starter Zach Britton. The Orioles, however, aren’t built on pitching. Their beltway rivals, the Nationals, are.
Washington leads the NL with a 3.08 team ERA and only the Seattle Mariners (3.03) have a lower total. Stephen Strasburg is atop of the NL leaderboard with 230 strikeouts, Doug Fister would have the 4th lowest ERA among NL starters (had he qualified), and the bullpen is in the Top 5 in ERA in the majors.
Their set-up reliever, Tyler Clippard, made the All-Star team, as did starter Jordan Zimmermann. Then there’s Tanner Roark, whose sub-3.00 ERA and 13 wins makes him an outstanding fifth starter.
First-year manager Matt Williams doesn’t have the luxury of a high-powered offense like his playing days in Cleveland, but the Nationals have had timely hitting as of late and find ways to get on base and score runs.
No other team in the league has four players with 80+ RBI and their balanced lineup of power and speed makes things difficult on opposing pitchers.
Shortstop Ian Desmond became only the fourth shortstop in MLB history with three seasons of 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases, joining Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins.
The Orioles rely on their offense more than anyone in baseball. They have bashed 194 home runs on the year, leading the majors by a wide margin. Nelson Cruz has become the best free agent signing, as he leads the league with 39 home runs after being suspended for a positive PED test just last year.
The O’s have experienced hitters up and down the lineup and they are able to wear out their counterparts on the mound by working the counts and crushing baseballs over the wall.
If either of these teams fails to win their division, it would be the biggest collapse in MLB history. Since the divisions are essentially clinched, it’s only a matter of who clinches their division first. The Orioles, whose magic number is 1, faces the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that is chasing them.
Washington’s magic number is 2 and they clinch with a win and an Atlanta Braves loss.
Those two teams are in the middle of a three-game series and the first pitch is five minutes after the Orioles start. The Nats and O’s met four times during the regular season (Baltimore won the series 3-1) and it’s plausible that they could play at least four more times… in late October.
Baseball is finally exciting again in the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) area.