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Orioles vs. Nationals: Series Preview

The Orioles leave Tampa Bay disappointed and further back in the Wild Card standings. They take on the Nationals, who will likely also be watching the playoffs from home. Bragging rights are the only thing on the line for this series.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

As the guy who does series previews, I can't tell you what a relief it is to be able to write about someone outside the AL. I'm generally not a fan of inter-league games, but this late in the season its a nice change of pace. The last time these two faces off was just before the All-Star Break. The Orioles dropped two of three in that series to fall to 44-44. The Nationals ended up 48-39 and two games up in their division. Since then, nothing has gone according to plan for either team.

The Orioles lost on Sunday while the Astros won, pushing the O's back to 5.5 games behind in the Wild Card. That was fun this week when we thought they might get back in it. But at 73-76 it really seems unlikely. The Nationals have a better chance of making the postseason according to the Fangraphs odds, but its still less than 2%, so, yeah...not that likely. Bryce Harper may get the MVP, but he's not getting that ring.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Gio Gonzalez

Almost every start Jimenez has made this season has resulted in us crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, and I don't see why this will be any different. He's been better this season, but consistency has been a huge issue. You'll probably hear about how he's 5-1 with a 2.61 ERA in his career against the Nats, but he hasn't pitched against them since 2011, meaning those numbers come from before the Nationals made the playoffs for the first time. Not the same team anymore.

Gio Gonzalez has slipped a little bit this year, and last year wasn't even that great in a very strong season from the Nationals rotation. But he's still going to make this his sixth straight season of double-digit wins and a 3.12 FIP is nothing to scoff at. Gonzalez has had to pitch against the Orioles a lot in these matchups - Matt Wieters has 21 PAs against him, Adam Jones has 25. Both of them have home runs against him and Wieters has a .588 average. Pretty safe bet he'll be the lineup.

Tuesday: Chris Tillman vs. Tanner Roark

Tillman got his first win for the first time in a month his last time out against the Rays, but he still gave up three runs in only 5.2 innings. Tillman hasn't pitched six innings in any of his four starts this month. He's always done pretty well against the Nationals, but he's always been better than he has been this season.

Gonzalez may have slipped a little for the Nationals this season, but Roark has been a lot worse. Last year he pitched just shy of 200 innings and had a 2.85 ERA. This season he's 4-6 with a 4.73 ERA. He started out the season in the bullpen, getting bumped from the rotation after the Nationals got Max Scherzer. Not too much of a record against him for anyone on the Orioles, but Jonathan's Schoop last at-bat against him was a walk-off home run.

Wednesday: TBD vs. Max Scherzer

I would try to guess who the Orioles are going to put in here, but last time I tried to do that for the Rays preview, they pulled Tyler Wilson in and I was wrong. It would be Tyler Wilson's turn in the rotation after he pitched on Friday, but I suppose Mike Wright could get the start also.

Max Scherzer pitched against the Orioles in the final game for both teams before the All-Star break, a game in which he got the win and looked well on his way to being a Cy Young contender for the NL. Since then he's hardly been bad, but not nearly as dominant. In fact, in the two months since that game he's only gotten two wins and at one point last month got three straights losses. Good or bad though, the Nationals will still be paying him a lot of money long after he's done playing. Be tough on the Orioles for not spending money if you want, but if you have to make those kinds of deals to be in the free agent market, I'll pass thanks.

Other Notes:

- I commute down to Greenbelt everyday and am also a Redskins fan, so I listen to a lot of DC sports radio. The talk of the Nationals all season has absolutely been the bullpen. This probably came to a peak recently when the Nationals were swept by the Mets in three games - a series which effectively killed their season - and it was all the bullpen's fault. I remember watching some of those games just in awe at what was happening. But here's the thing - their ERA is above average for the NL, they've pitched less innings than all but two other NL clubs, they have an about average BAA...so is the bullpen really a problem? My guess is a more in-depth analysis would show some incredibly bad luck for their bullpen in losing games in critical situations.

- I mentioned Harper above and his quote when asked what he thought about the Nats signing Scherzer ("Where's my ring?"). It's easy to poke fun at Harper about that and a lot of other things, but you can't deny how good he's been this season. He's already worth more than 10 WAR this season, which is a great achievement. BUT - I think it has been slightly fueled by some luck. Here are some supporting arguments for that:

- He has a career .334 BAPIP (high!) but this year its been a ridiculous .379.

- His HR/FB ratio is 20.4%. In, previous seasons it's never been above 12.7%

- His GB/FB ratio is 0.61 - the best of his career and well below the MLB average of 0.84.

So he's been hitting more flyballs and more of those flyballs have been going out of the park. Any balls not hit out of the park have been more likely to be put in play. Maybe this is the start of these kinds of numbers for him and in five years it'll look normal. I'm betting not though.

- These two teams playing kind of reminded me of the MASN case - what's the latest on that? Most of the latest articles I found on Google were from the spring time when the two sides made their final arguments in court. I think that means we're still waiting for the judge in the case to make his decision on whether to vacate the RSDC decision.

- If I remember correctly, when these two teams play you can watch the game on one MASN channel with the Orioles broadcasters and on the other with the Nationals broadcasters. This is where we are with sports broadcasting now - MASN will air two versions of the same game instead of just one and maybe not increase how much you pay for the channel each year. (And yes, I realize the Orioles hold a large stake in MASN and therefore benefit from those subscriber fees)

Prediction:

It's amazing how much different an inning can make. If Britton hadn't blown the save on Sunday, the O's would be coming into this series having won three out of four in Tampa and with the chance to get back above .500. But that doesn't change the fact that the O's have been playing a lot better lately. I think they'll get two out of three in DC - our time talking about their playoff being officially dead will wait a few more days.