Battle of the Beltways

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The Battle of the Beltways takes on extra significance in 2012.

Major League Baseball introduced Interleague Play in 1997, eliciting a mixed reaction from fans. Some purists were upset with the break from tradition, while others welcomed the chance to see players from the opposite league they would only otherwise be able to see play by traveling, or if, by chance, they happened to be the opponent of the hometown nine in the World Series. Regardless of the initial reactions, Interleague Play has been largely a success, with perhaps its greatest victory lying in the regional rivalries it has created.

The geography of MLB as it exists today leads to natural, metropolitan Interleague rivalries in 10 regions:

-       Subway Series: Yankees vs. Mets

-       Freeway Series: Dodgers vs. Angels

-       Cross-town Classic: Cubs vs. White Sox

-       Bay Bridge Series: A’s vs. Giants

-       I-70 Series: Cardinals vs. Royals

-       Ohio Cup: Reds vs. Indians

-       Lone Star Series: Rangers vs. Astros

-       Citrus Series: Marlins vs. Rays

-       (No official name, but battle of former AL rivals): Twins vs. Brewers

-       And of course, the Battle of the Beltways: Nationals vs. Orioles

While the D.C./Baltimore rivalry has often lacked in relevance to the overall postseason picture, there has nevertheless been a slowly developing importance to this series. As the Nationals only entered the picture in 2005, and the teams didn’t actually face each other until ‘06, there has been less time to build the momentum of a true rivalry, but 2012 should help accelerate that process. Never have these two teams met with as good a combined record as they do beginning Friday night in the Nation’s Capital.

With Stephen Strasburg throwing the series finale, expect high drama on Sunday.

Baltimore is the surprise of the American League East so far this season. Despite often getting out of the gates well over the last 10 seasons, few expected the Orioles to be on top of one of the toughest divisions in the game in mid-May. Their record entering Friday stands at 25-14, one game up on the Tampa Bay Rays and four clear of third-place Toronto. If the season ended today, shockingly, the Yankees would finish fourth and the Red Sox fifth.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have occupied the top spot in the NL East for much of the season, but come into the series trailing the Braves by a half-game at 23-15. Needless to say, the teams’ combined record of 48-29 is by far the best of any geographic rivals matching up this weekend (the Florida teams are second-best at 44-33).

This series promises meaningful games and, if precedence holds, some really compelling drama as well. Of the 36 total games played between the clubs, 23 have been decided by two runs or less, including 15 one-run contests. The Orioles own the slight overall edge, posting a 19-17 record since the inception of the Battle of the Beltways, but the Nationals have fared better as of late. Washington took four-of-six last year, and has won four of the last five games played between the two teams along the shores of the Anacostia.

The Sunday series finale might offer the best storyline of the series, with Stephen Strasburg slated to take on undefeated free agent acquisition Wie-Yin Chen in either a rubber-match or possible sweep scenario. Regardless of the outcome, D.C. and Baltimore baseball fans are set up for the most exciting weekend the Battle of the Beltways has ever seen.

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