When it comes to Birdland, the nature of rivalries can be very subjective.
For example, some folks are more outward in their disdain for the Yankees, or maybe even the Red Sox. Speaking of Red Sox, noted Boston fan turned Orioles howler Jason La Canfora has yet to let go of the 2014 ALCS, and isn’t shy in proving how sore a loser he is.
Best thing about an O's fan is that even on my darkest day I don't have to support the Royals. Oblivion serves them well— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) August 21, 2016
The best thing about being an Orioles fan is certainly not the reveling in others misery, especially when said misery is a current eight-game winning streak and wins in 13 of their last 15 games. #RallyMantis is alive and well, and so is La Canfora’s continued bother.
Anyway, in regards to Orioles rivalries, I most look forward to the annual back and forth with the Nationals, a cause of family squabbles. When the Gnats moved back into town, I had a pair of cousins defect from the Rebel force and place their allegiance with the Dark Side. Having never really confessed to a proper explanation, I still hold a grudge, albeit a small one, but a grudge nonetheless. Well, there’s also Bryce Harper and his hair, a very unlikeable combo. And there’s Mike Rizzo. And F.P. Santangelo. And those Walgreens-lookin’ hats.
And this guy.
I really don’t like this guy.
Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.59 ERA) vs. Dylan Bundy (6-4, 3.36 ERA)
The former number-one pick is having yet another Strasburg-like season, and somehow, evolving into more of a force. His current 30.4 K% would be the highest he’s ever had as a full-timer, as would his 10.7 HR/FB rate. However, his walk rate (7.5%) is slightly high, a cause of having less success out of the zone. He’s seen fewer chases, more contact out of the strike zone, and fewer whiffs, but the Orioles won’t be seeing the kind of Strasburg they’ve grown accustomed to.
He’s diversified his arsenal, having nearly erased the curveball from his repertoire. He’s also pitched to many more sliders (0.5% in 2015, 17.1% this year) while throwing fewer fastballs. Strasburg is still a high-explosive, pump-the-strike-zone pitcher with the stuff do it, and the only Oriole with any successful history is “shockingly” Manny Machado, who’s 3-3 with two singles and a double. He’ll be tough, per usual.
As for Dylan Bundy, no current Nats have any history versus the O’s hottest pitcher, so the odds are obviously in his favor. The Orioles are going to desperately need someone to set the tone in what is now the biggest series of the year for the O’s to date, and Bundy would be the obvious choice as the guy to light a fire under a team whose ass is bare cold.
Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 4.37 ERA) vs. Kevin Gausman (4-10, 4.11 ERA)
Lopez is only making his fifth career start, so we’re still glimpsing into what he can be, but thus far, it looks like the Nats have yet another dominator in the stable. He flashes a fastball that sits around 96 MPH with a changeup and curveball, and so far he owns a nearly even fly ball to ground ball ratio, leaning ever slightly to the air. His heavy arm has marked a lot of strikeouts early (25.0%), but he’s also had command issues (9.8 BB%). He’s primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher, the kind of guy the Orioles can certainly grind out mistakes.
Poor Gausman. The scoring of runs for a certain pitcher seems to me to be a happenstance of baseball weirdness, but Gausman’s constant pressure of high-intensity innings has certainly had its effect. Also a two-pitch pitcher, Gausman hasn’t had much of a history fooling any of the current Nationals incumbents, including Wilson Ramos who is 2-3 with a dinger. This is a big one for Gausman. Implications, big stage, genuine dislike in the stands, etc. He’s got a chance to turn some heads.
On to Nationals Park! Behind enemy lines! In case you forgot how to get there, we’re very resourceful here at Camden Chat.
Wade Miley (7-10, 5.58 ERA) vs. Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.87 ERA)
Not only does Wade Miley pitch like a guy whose name is Wade Miley, but as an Oriole, Wade Miley has managed to pitch worse than Wade Miley who pitches like a guy whose name is Wade Miley. That’s worth a Keanu “whoa” right there, baby.
And this is a lineup that’s gotten the best of Miley. Combined, the current Nats roster is 37-86, equating to a .430 batting average against the soft-tossing southpaw. Whaddya know, the Miley plague is contagious. Trying to bounce back from what was probably the worst of the Orioles current 56 losses, Miley is capable of being, as Dan Szymborski so eloquently put, “simply lousy, not horrible”, so who knows.
Even in a rotation with Strasburg, Lopez, Joe Ross and Max Scherzer, Roark has been the most consistent. You have to respect a guy who was bucked to the bullpen a season ago and wasn’t quite the same, btu he’s returned to the starting staff with a vengeance. Not a heavy strikeout guy, Roark induces ground balls at a 50% clip, and his fly balls don’t ever really turn into home runs. The Orioles going to have to string together base hits against a guy who throws his sinker nearly 60% of the time. Ugh.
TBA (Chris Tillman, 15-5, 3.76 ERA?) vs. TBA (Max Scherzer, 13-7, 3.05 ERA?)
If we’re working off of five days rest, a Tillman-Scherzer clash would be the Orioles-Nationals version of a heavyweight bout, but Scherzer will always be the Ali to Tillman’s Frazier.
Still, Tillman has a pretty good history against the current Nationals. Having tallied a .257 opponent average, the only Washington player to really mash Tillman is Ryan Zimmermann, who is 3-6 with three home runs. Scherzer is a beast, and will beast against any and every lineup, giving Thursday the look of a playoff-type atmosphere.
As was said before, this is likely the biggest set of games the Orioles have had to this point of the year, and a four-game series with the bad dudes across the Beltway sets up for a tremendous rise, or a furthering plummet into the pundit’s preseason predictions.
The O’s have many teams biting at their heels, and a few creating distance. Competitive baseball games versus an all but guaranteed division winner can either be a blessing or the last fatality of a team on its deathbed.
More importantly, I really don’t wanna hear any flack from my traitorous cousins.