The Story So Far:
There's no two ways around this - the Orioles have been playing bad baseball lately. They've lost eight of their last ten and have fallen back behind the Yankees again, tied for 2nd in the division with the Blue Jays at 2.5 games behind. The offense seems to have reverted back to an inability to score runs again, so much so so that even some decent pitching performances from arguably the team's weakest part (the starting rotation) hasn't been enough to help them win. Losing series to the Rangers, White Sox, and Twins is not what playoff teams do. At 43-42, they still have a good shot to finish before the break at or above .500, which isn't terrible but not where this team wanted to be.
The Nationals have been up and down all season. Currently they're 46-38, which isn't a bad record but probably not where they want to be either. I wonder if Bryce Harper is still wondering where his ring is. And of course, the Nationals play in what might be the league's worst division, so a three game lead is probably nothing to brag about. Harper, by the way, is having a great season, MVP-caliber even. But his .377 BABIP and 21.7% HR/FB rate are very high. I wouldn't expect him to continue that through the rest of the season.
Rather than get into pitching matchups and notes about each game, I thought I'd change things up a bit and write about the history of this series. After all, I think it's turned into a pretty good rivalry. Not only is there the whole MASN thing that has kind of forced fans of both teams to take a side, but they've followed a pretty similar path since the Nationals moved to DC in 2005. At the time, the Orioles were a bad team and the Nationals weren't any better. Both teams had losing seasons until 2012, when they both made the playoffs - the Nationals won their division, the Orioles getting the wild card. In 2013, both teams missed the playoffs despite very similar winning records. Then in 2014, both teams won their divisions. The Nationals had very high World Series aspirations. I don't know about the rest of you, but while I thought the Orioles very well could win the Series last year, I was mostly happy to see them get the division crown and win a series in the playoffs. Of course, that's more than the Nationals could do, who lost in the NLDS to the Giants.
The two teams didn't play each other until 2006, when there were two three game series, like this year. They would split those games, with each team winning two out of three at home. 2007 was a different story though. The Orioles won two out of three in Washington, but then got swept in Baltimore. Two of those six games went extra innings. 2008 didn't let the Orioles gain back any ground in the series, as they would again split six games and again each team won two out of three at home. The final game that year went 12 innings. After 11, the score was 1-1, and the Orioles scored a run in top of the 12th when Adam Jones hit a single to score Nick Markakis to make it 2-1. But in the bottom of the 12, George Sherill gave up a 2-run home run to Ronnie Belliard. Nationals win 3-2. Ouch.
2009 was better for the O's though. They won four out of six, getting two out of three in both Baltimore and Washington. Strangely, the very first game between the two that year was also a 12-inning game. This time, with the game tied 2-2, Adam Jones would (again) get a hit (this time, 2 RBIs) to put the O's ahead 4-2. George Sherill would (again) come on for the save, but this time he got the job the done and the Orioles won. By the end of the season, the series was back at a tie - 12-12.
2010 was the start of the Orioles dominating the Nationals. They won four out of six, including another extra inning game - which they lost, but seriously, what's with these teams? After 2010, the Orioles were up in the head-to-head 16-14. The two teams split the series in 2011, with each team winning three games. No extra inning games that year, though the Orioles did lose the first one 17-5. The less said about that, the better.
In 2012, the Orioles again won four out of six. Like a lot of Orioles games that year, most of them were close contests. Four games were decided by one run (all of which the Orioles won). Wei-Yen Chen got hit with the loss in both games the Orioles did lose. Guys who got wins for the Orioles included Kevin Gregg, Pedro Strop, and Jason Hammel. Was that really only in 2012? Feels like longer.
2013 saw the switch to a four game series format, two consecutive games at home and away. Personally, I like this better for inter-league rival play. If we're not going to have inter-league play be anything special anymore, at least it could be given some distinction with the home and away series. Anyway, the Orioles won three out of four that year. The funny thing is that in their three wins, the Orioles beat Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Dan Haren. They lost to Zach Duke, who's currently pitching out of the White Sox bullpen. Kevin Gausman lost that game after giving up seven runs in four innings. Not great, Goose. But the Orioles would improve their record over the Nationals to 26-20.
Last year should have been another home and home series, but one of the games in DC was rained out, which pushed it into August. The first game may have been one of the stranger games I remember watching. After they carried a 2-2 tie into the 11th inning, the Orioles exploded for six runs to win 8-2. That inning featured home runs by Chris Davis, J.J Hardy, and Manny Machado, and sac bunt by TJ McFarland. I'm pretty sure there was also a rain delay in that game, so by the time it ended it was pretty late - but if you stayed up to watch it you got quite the ending.
The final game (the makeup in August and the last time these two teams played) was another good one. The Orioles were down 3-2 going into the 7th. Tanner Roark had been pitching very well and it wasn't looking good. I was at the game, and there was a definite feel among the (many) O's fans in attendance that things weren't going to end well. But in the top of the 7th, the Orioles would get six hits, broken up only by a sacrifice bunt by Caleb Joseph before ending the inning on a double play ground out. They scored three runs. Then in the eighth they scored two more on four hits and a passed ball. That gave the Orioles a 7-3 lead they wouldn't give up. Needless to say, we didn't leave disappointed that night.
So that brings us up to this year. Since the teams started playing every season in 2006, the Orioles are 29-21 against the Nationals and haven't lost a season series against them since 2007. We're also right about that MASN thing, by the way.
Who knows? I just went to MLB.com and each game is listed as TBD for both teams. Roch Kubatko tweeted earlier today that Tillman is expected to take the mound since it's his turn, so - OK. Surprisingly, Washington's rotation isn't that great this year. Strasburg has been hurt, Gonzalez and Zimmerman haven't looked as strong as last year, and Doug Fister has a losing record. But they did get Max Scherzer in the offseason, and I expect the Orioles will see him on Sunday. Scherzer may be the best pitcher in the NL this year. He nearly pitched back-to-back no-hitters. He's been good. The thing is the last time the Orioles saw Scherzer was in Game 1 of the ALDS when they it him up for five earned runs in 7.1 innings. So yeah, not that worried.
- Ian Desmond, who plays shortstop for the Nats, has 20 errors on the season. That's a lot and leads the NL by five. Somehow though, Marcus Semien makes Desmond look good with 27 in the AL.
- The Nationals real dominance comes at home. On the road they're 21-22. This isn't much different from the Orioles, who have a much better record at home and are losers on the road. For this weekend though, all that matters is the Orioles are at home, giving them a better chance to win.
- Back in April I proclaimed to a friend of mine who roots for the Yankees that the Orioles would have a better record at the All-Star break. If the Orioles sweep and the Yankees get swept, this would be true. The Yankees are playing a three game series in Boston this weekend, so...go Sox.
Nope, not doing it. I would like to see the Orioles at least be at .500 going into the break and as long as they don't get swept they can do that. Yes, that's a low bar. This is where we are. Let's just hope for better times post-Cincinnati.