Results tagged ‘ Interleague play ’
Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.
The Nationals enjoyed a rare mid-homestand off day, as they prepared for their final six games of Interleague Play for the 2012 season. With the break in the action, we took the time to fill you in on some of the top signees out of this year’s First-Year Player Draft. As Washington prepared to host the Rays in the opener of a three-game set on Tuesday, we reflected upon the striking similarities between this year’s Nationals club and Tampa Bay’s 2008 edition. Once the dust had settled from a 5-4 Nationals loss on Tuesday, the team rebounded with an athletic performance that led to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday. The Nationals then went out and won the battle of rookies named Moore, taking the series with a 5-2 triumph on Thursday.
From there, Washington traveled to the Beltway to the north for a rematch with the Orioles. The Nats couldn’t get much going against Jason Hammel on Friday night, falling 2-1 in the series opener. They rebounded behind Edwin Jackson, who took a perfect game into the fifth inning, in a 3-1 victory on Saturday to set up a second consecutive series to be decided by a pivotal rubber game. After leading 1-0 much of the way, the Nationals were unable to get the ball to Tyler Clippard for the ninth, as the Orioles rallied in the eighth for their second 2-1 victory of the series.
Tue vs. TAM: L, 4-5
Wed vs. TAM: W, 3-2
Thu vs. TAM: W, 5-2
Fri @ BAL: L, 1-2
Sat @ BAL: W, 3-1
Sun @ BAL: L, 1-2
Weekly Record: 3-3
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.
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.
There is something refreshingly cathartic about the cycle of years and seasons. The end of the old always brings with it the beginning of a new era, another chance to be better than before. While this is true of every baseball season, it is no stretch to say that the buzz — the excitement, the energy, the hope — that is floating around the 2012 Nationals is unlike anything that Washington has seen since the team moved to The District in 2005.
This hope does not come without good reason. There is the prospect of a healthy Stephen Strasburg electrifying the top of the rotation every five days. He will be followed by two more dynamic, budding stars in Jordan Zimmermann and the recently acquired Gio Gonzalez, all three 26 years-old or younger. Solid, sturdy veterans Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan will be in the mix with the promising Ross Detwiler, bringing stability to the back end of the starting staff.
From there, another set of power arms takes over in the bullpen, led by 2011 All-Star Tyler Clippard and anchored by closer Drew Storen, who in his rookie campaign became just the second National ever to notch 40 saves in a season. Add in flamethrower Henry Rodriguez, who regularly touches triple digits on the radar gun, and you’ve got three more exciting arms, again all under the age of 27.
In the lineup, the Nationals will look for a healthy year from Ryan Zimmerman. DC’s under-the-radar superstar began last season hot before suffering an abdominal strain that hampered his production throughout the year. Still just 27 years of age, the third baseman will look to return to his form of the previous five seasons, during which he averaged 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 89 RBI while playing in an average of 145 games.
Jayson Werth, meanwhile, will look to reestablish himself as the player who received MVP votes in each of his two seasons prior to joining the Nationals. While he reached the 20-home run plateau for the fourth consecutive season in 2011, a return to form across the board in his numbers would make the middle of the Nationals lineup that much more formidable to opposing pitching staffs.
Joining that pair will be 2011’s breakout star, Michael Morse. The numbers don’t lie — Morse hit .303 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs, 95 RBI and a .550 slugging percentage. But to understand just how good Morse’s season was, consider the following: he had more doubles and home runs than Troy Tulowitzki, and a higher slugging percentage than Albert Pujols (see for yourself). In fact, besides the NL MVP, Morse was the only player in the National League to bat over .300 with 35 or more doubles, 30 or more home runs and a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The return of “The Beast” to the middle of the lineup should be a welcome sight for Nats fans everywhere.
Another returnee for 2012 who impressed last year was rookie infielder Danny Espinosa, who will look to build on the power potential he flashed during his 21-home run performance last season. Coupled with the slick glove work he often showed at second base, the former Long Beach State shortstop may just prove he owns that rare combination of being a versatile middle infielder with pop from both sides of the plate. Oh, and he won’t turn 25 until after Opening Day.
Even after trading four prospects to the Oakland Athletics in the Gonzalez deal, there is still plenty of talent waiting in the wings, ready to contribute in the future. Top prospects like lefthander Matt Purke and infielder Anthony Rendon are poised to join Bryce Harper in the years to come, but that discussion is for another time.
While the future remains very bright for this team, make no mistake, the window has officially opened. With the Gonzalez trade, EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo not only added one of the premiere left-handed power arms in the game, he announced that he is not waiting for some distant tomorrow to contend.
“Gio’s ample talents are well known and chronicled,” said Rizzo after inking the lefty to a five-year extension on Sunday. “Now both Gio and our fans can shift their focus and excitement to his debut in DC knowing that their relationship won’t be ending in the short term.”
Of course, the road will not be easy. With the flurry of acquisitions made by the new Miami Marlins, the NL East has improved to the point of challenging its American League counterpart as the toughest division in baseball. And speaking of that AL East, the Nats will draw the perennial powerhouse in Interleague Play this year, making the schedule that much tougher. The good news is, should Washington survive this gauntlet and (gasp!) force its way into the picture for the potentially expanding postseason field, this young Nationals squad will have already faced the toughest teams in the league.
If you’ve been following the Nats from the beginning, your best days certainly appear to be ahead of you. If 2012 marks the beginning of your fandom, then welcome. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
The Nats get a break from the NL East for the next 15 games. They begin Interleague play tonight against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Washington is 37-38 in Interleague games and 2-1 against the Rays since relocating to DC in 2005. RHP Craig Stammen is seeking his first Major League victory.
The pitchers will get a break from the batter’s box this weekend. The Nationals will use the designated hitter for the first time this season. Here’s a look at the current Nationals who have experience serving as the DH during their careers:
BATTER AB R H HR RBI AVG
Nick Johnson 294 50 77 12 46 .262
Elijah Dukes 36 5 7 2 6 .194
Adam Dunn 36 8 10 3 5 .278
Josh Willingham 20 3 5 0 3 .250
Willie Harris 8 2 1 0 1 .125
Ryan Zimmerman 5 0 0 0 0 .000
Josh Bard 4 1 0 0 0 .000
Ronnie Belliard 4 1 1 1 1 .250
Cristian Guzman 1 0 0 0 0 .000