Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., are no more than 40 miles apart from each other. An hour drive in either direction to catch a baseball game is certainly worth the trek, especially if it’s to catch your favorite team or player. But, the experience is enjoyed ten fold when your favorite team isn’t just playing host to a contender or when a marquee name steps onto your diamond, but when your team is the contender and has that marquee name.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals.
(If only someone had the foresight to think up this conundrum before. Oh wait… I did. Back when TSHQ was a mere Blogger start up. Ahh, youth. Anyways, back to the issue at hand.)
Baltimore holds the history, the classic ball park, and the former Seinfeld regular. The Nationals are the scrappy up-and-comer; with the top prospects you know by name and the nothing to lose “Nattitude.” While the Orioles just took two of three from the Nationals, these two teams continue to fight off of the field for supremacy with the fans in their backyards.
The Nationals don’t have the Ripkens and Robinsons to reflect to in their yesteryear. They don’t have the fathers bringing their sons to the ballpark, passing down stories of the greats they idolized when their father taught them the game. What the Nationals lack in history and nostalgia, they more than make up for in promise.
Stephen Strasberg accomplished another first during this series. Surprisingly enough, it had nothing to do with his performance on the hill but rather in the batter’s box. Strasberg went yard against the Orioles, his first major league blast. Something Nationals fans should not get used to. That’s what Bryce Harper is for. Consecutive first overall picks, the Nationals got two cornerstones to build around and, maybe most importantly, market. While Angels’ top prospect Mike Trout has outperformed Harper thus far this season, no single player’s call up has been as anticipated since… Stephen Strasberg. While hype can sell tickets initially, performance keeps the fans in the stands. So far, Strasberg has lived up to the billing. And Harper, being the first teenager to homer in consecutive games since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989, is certainly flashing some signs of greatness to come.
But, the Orioles are not a group of scrubs. Adam Jones (no, not that Adam Jones) was acquired for Erik Bedard from Seattle years back when the Mariners thought it would be cute if they tried to compete. Talk about getting value. While Bedard has bounced around to a few different teams, Jones has continued to develop as one of the top center fielders in the majors. His defense has always wowed and impressed as he makes web gems routinely. As of today, Jones has 14 bombs and is touting a .308 average in the heart of the O’s lineup. Jones has three separate ten game hitting streaks this season alone and is leading the Orioles in average, homers, runs, RBI, and stolen bases. Looming in the wings is former first round pick Dylan Bundy, a pitcher the Orioles believe has ace potential. While he was only drafted last season, he is already making waves in Single-A and could see action with the O’s as early as next September if he continues to progress at this rate. Oh yeah, Matt Wieters, in case you didn’t know… dude can rake. That’s all that really needs to be said on that matter.
But, enough about the future. Let’s look at the here and now. The AL East and NL East are the two toughest divisions in baseball. Zero debate. Big markets up and down the East coast. The Phillies, Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Mets, and Marlins. All big spenders. All have lineups and rotations littered with All Stars. As of May 21, 2012, NONE are in first place. With all due respect to the first place Braves, the Orioles and Nationals have been the two best teams in their respective divisions this season. Not next season. Not a few years down the road, hopefully, maybe. Right here and right now.
Will both of these teams make the playoffs this season? Probably not. As I said, their divisions aren’t exactly cake walks. Tomorrow alone, the Nationals open up a three game set with the Phillies while the Orioles play host to the Red Sox. To end the week, Washington gets the first place Braves while the Orioles get a mini-vacation with Kansas City in town.
But make no mistake, no one is taking these teams lightly any more. Davey Johnson and Buck Showalter have their clubs playing to their potential and believing in themselves. Mike Rizzo and Dan Duquette will continue to add pieces to build around their cores. And Stephen Strasberg, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and Bryce Harper should be perennial All Stars. You thought the 2000 Subway Series was fun? Just wait for the 2015 Maryland Mash (you got a better name? Leave a comment. If not, this sticks). I know who I’ll be pulling for, do you?