Keeler: O’s, Nats learning from past experience
Next week the D.C. area will be buzzing with baseball talk, and with good reason.
The Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles will both be in the Major League Baseball playoffs and both have a chance to win it all. The Nationals won the NL East and the Orioles won the AL East, and when the playoffs start next week they will host a divisional series.
I have to admit, I feel like there hasn’t been as much hoopla about the two teams late this season in comparison with two years ago.
Maybe it’s my imagination, maybe it’s the fact that there is so much else going on in sports right now. Or maybe it’s that both teams and their fans are learning from past experiences.
Two years ago, it seemed like talk of the Nationals was everywhere when they made the postseason. It was their first time since moving to D.C. in 2005 from Montreal and the hype seemed a little out of control. They had the best record in baseball, and many thought they would win it all. Of course, they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional series.
The Orioles were the wild card team two years ago and advanced to play the New York Yankees and lost in a tough five-game series. Just like that both the Nationals and Orioles and all the buzz were gone, like the air being let out of a balloon. Maybe this year will be different and maybe experience will be a key to helping both teams.
Unlike the Nationals, the Orioles have been here before as a franchise. This year was their ninth AL East title, and they’ve advanced to the playoffs 11 times. They have even won the World Series three times, but haven’t done as well lately.
The Orioles are still being managed by Buck Showalter, and have enough returning players and some new experienced ones such as Nelson Cruz to make a difference.
Baltimore’s division title was its first since 1997, and they certainly deserved it. They did it in an unusual way for them — by hitting a lot of home runs. They have hit 202 homers this year.
The Orioles are third in slugging percentage (.424) in MLB, eighth in batting average (.258) and sixth in runs scored (695).
Their bullpen has still been solid, just like it has been in past years. Baltimore is seventh in ERA (3.45) and 10th in batting average against (.244).
Even injuries and suspensions haven’t slowed down the Orioles this season. It seems like anything that has been thrown at them, they have handled and that could be a good sign for them in the postseason.
The Nationals have a different manager from two years ago, but Matt Williams knows a little about winning in the postseason. Williams was part of the Arizona Diamondbacks team that won it all in 2001 and was with the Giants (1989) and the Indians (1997) when they lost in the World Series.
Washington has most of its cast back from two years ago, but I think the Nationals were a young team then and are now ready for a better run in the postseason this year.
The Nationals have had a good combination of hitting and pitching this season. At the plate, the Nationals are ninth in runs scored (662), 11th in on-base percentage (.319) and 10th in slugging percentage (.392).
The offense has been strong, but the pitching has been even better. Washington is first in ERA (3.01), second in quality starts (102) and second in WHIP (1.16).
Washington got off to a slow start due to injuries, but once the Nationals got healthy they took off like a rocket. They have been the hottest team in the National League over the second half of the season, and they have the best record in the National League.
On paper things look pretty good for both the Orioles and Nationals, but as we all know that doesn’t mean a lot entering postseason. Things start over from scratch in the postseason, and anyone in the playoffs can win it all.
Washington will likely play either Pittsburgh or San Francisco in the divisional series, while the Orioles will likely take on Detroit. Neither series will be easy.
If both teams can handle the pressure of the big moment and deliver when it counts the most, they could both wind up in the World Series. Now that would give the D.C. area a reason to be excited.
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler.com