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Game 42: Orioles (27-14) @ Nationals (23-17), 1:35pm

Former Chunichi Dragon Wei-Yin Chen will be looking to outduel MLB's equivalent of an actual dragon - Stephen Strasburg.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Former Chunichi Dragon Wei-Yin Chen will be looking to outduel MLB's equivalent of an actual dragon - Stephen Strasburg. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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If you have ever in your life read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you know that 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. It's a fitting thing today because in the Orioles' 42nd game of this surprising 2012 season they will be up against Stephen Strasburg as the Nationals try to stave off a sweep. Strasburg's been spending the year destroying the National League. He enters the game with a 2.25 ERA and he's got 56 strikeouts against 12 walks over 48 innings pitched. With 336 strikeouts, the Orioles hitters lead MLB in the category.

The really astounding thing about Strasburg's strikeout rate - that's a 10.5 K/9, which, for a starter, is ridiculous - is that it isn't even the best on the Nats staff. Gio Gonzalez, who the O's missed int his series, has a K/9 of 11.1. If they can manage to beat Strasburg, that may very well mean life, the universe and everything to Birdland. If they don't, well...

Okay, let's not get too melodramatic about it. One of those things we may have to get used to if the Orioles remain good is that not every loss need be imbued with ominous portent. Even an astoundingly good 100-win baseball team will lose 62 times over the course of a regular season. As fans, we wouldn't want the Orioles to roll over and give up on any game, but when all is said and done, if the O's were to lose to Strasburg without any infuriating old-Oriolesque moments, we would say, well, that's OK. There's always tomorrow. Even my 7th grade social studies teacher acknowledged this sort of thing prior to the 1996 season - he told us that the Orioles were going to go 159-3 because "they'll run into Roger Clemens and David Cone a few times." No, I don't know why I remember that kind of stuff.

Something that is different about this year's Orioles is that they aren't always bringing a plastic butter knife to a gun fight. While Wei-Yin Chen isn't the kind of fireballer that Strasburg is, he's gotten results so far in his time in the big leagues - a 2.45 ERA that's even more impressive than Strasburg's when you consider that Chen has had to face a DH rather than a pitcher/pinch-hitter in opposing lineups. And Chen gets to face a Nationals team that's averaging 3.65 runs scored per game. Nats hitters only have 6 fewer strikeouts than Orioles hitters on the season. They also strike out a lot.

A loss to the likes of Strasburg isn't going to be a reason to go all Chicken Little around here and act like the good times are over. But, should the Orioles manage to find a way to win this game and complete the sweep today, we might finally start to feel like it's safe to take the plunge and believe that this team could be for real. Go O's!


Xavier Avery - LF Danny Espinosa - 2B
J.J. Hardy - SS Bryce Harper - CF
Nick Markakis - RF Ryan Zimmerman - 3B
Adam Jones - CF Adam LaRoche - 1B
Wilson Betemit - 3B Ian Desmond - SS
Chris Davis - 1B Xavier Nady - RF
Robert Andino - 2B Tyler Moore - LF
Luis Exposito - C Jesus Flores - C
Wei-Yin Chen - P Stephen Strasburg - P