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Orioles-Nationals series preview: Back to the Battle of the Beltways

The Orioles’ flickering playoff chances could get a boost—if they can tee off against the worst pitching staff in the game.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies
Young shortstop CJ Abrams is a new arrival to the Nationals since the Orioles last saw them.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There are just over three weeks left in the regular season, and things are getting real. The O’s were never supposed to be competing for a playoff berth in 2022—but then they were, and so a 5-6 record so far in September feels like a bitter pill to swallow. O’s fans might get put through a lot, but it’s tough to downshift expectations that quickly!

The Birds are not mathematically out of the playoffs, though, and if they want to jumpstart the playoff quest, pummeling the hopeless Washington Nationals (49-92) for two games seems like a good way to do it. This won’t solve everything, but it’d be nice.

The last time these two teams met was back on June 21-22nd, also for a two-game mini-series. The Birds split the series, losing the first game 3-0 (Jordan Lyles the starter) before taking the rain-shortened second game, 7-0, behind a strong Tyler Wells start and a save from Nick Vespi.

Since then, the Nats have stayed stuck in the NL East cellar while making moves, not of the good-in-the-short-term kind. In August, they released old Orioles friend Maikel Franco, who wasn’t hitting, and shortstop Alcides Escobar (same). They also sent their two best players, Juan Soto and Josh Bell, off to the greener pastures of San Diego. Soto and Bell, both Padres now, still lead the Nationals in wins above replacement (3.7 WAR and and 3.5 WAR, respectively) even though neither has been on the team for over a month. If you’re a Nats fan, that is a sad fact.

In return for Soto and Bell, the Nats did pick up a passel of players and prospects: MLB infielders CJ Abrams and Luke Voit, to go with minor leaguers MacKenzie Gore (a former No. 3 pick), Robert Hassell (a 2020 first-rounder), pitcher Jarlin Susana, and James Wood (a 2021 second-rounder). Luke Voit has been solid, with a .747 OPS for his new team, but Abrams is OPS’ing just .554.

Overall, FanGraphs ranks the Nationals the sixth-worst offense in MLB and dead last in pitching. This sounds like a team the Orioles could score some runs against, no?

Game 1: Tuesday, September 13th, 7:05 p.m., MASN

Dean Kremer (6-5, 3.23 ERA, 71 K) vs. Cory Abbott (0-2, 4.22 ERA, 29 K)

After putting up an ugly 7.55 ERA last season, Dean Kremer was one of the Orioles with the most to prove in 2022. By any metric, the 26-year-old right-hander has delivered. With a 3.23 ERA in 17 games, Kremer could become the first Orioles starter with an ERA of 3.50 or below since Wei-Yin Chen’s 3.34 mark in 2015. Over his last seven starts, Kremer has allowed two or more runs only once. Given the limpness of the Orioles’ offense of late, they’ll need Kremer to continue this trend.

It’s not a huge logical leap to infer that, right now, the Nationals would prefer to be starting someone other than Cory Abbott. A potential rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, and Jackson Tetreault has been decimated by injuries. Instead, there’s Abbott. Picked up off waivers from San Francisco in May, the 2017 draft pick has appeared in just 19 total games in two seasons, and just this season has already been optioned to Triple-A four times by Washington. He’s 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA and 1.39 WHIP as a starter this season, although his xERA is a very respectable 3.34. Abbott is mostly a four-seam fastball guy, and sprinkles in a slider and curveball to go with the heater, which averages 91.5 mph in velo.

Game 2: Wednesday, September 14th, 7:05 p.m., MASN

Tyler Wells (7-6, 3.91 ERA, 69 K) vs. Patrick Corbin (6-18, 6.30 ERA, 120 K)

In his first year working as a starter, the 6’8” righty has shown flashes of brilliance. Over 12 starts in May-June, Wells pitched to a 2.59 ERA and had batters hitting just .198 against him. He struggled to a 5.76 ERA in July, which could reflect fatigue or the back injury that sent to the IL on July 27. The Orioles activated him for a quick start on September 7, which wasn’t his sharpest performance, but wasn’t bad either: 2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO. At 96.2 innings on the year, Wells has already blown past his innings total for 2021. The Orioles will be careful with his usage, but they could also use him down the stretch, if this playoffs thing is really going to happen.

Seeing Patrick Corbin this year, it’s hard to believe that the southpaw Corbin finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2018 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. His 2022 numbers are some of the worst in baseball, especially when it comes to hard-hit percentage (45.9%) and expected ERA (6.67). He’s allowed more runs (99) and hits (195) than any other pitcher in baseball (Jordan Lyles was in hot pursuit of that hits-allowed “record,” but he’s a ways back, at 179). Right-handed batters are feasting on the lefty Corbin this season, with a .325 average and .917 OPS.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win against the Nationals?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    2 - it’s a sweep!
    (121 votes)
  • 14%
    1
    (21 votes)
  • 2%
    0 - get swept.
    (4 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now