The Washington Nationals (26-24) are coming off their first series win of their last five meetings, and they will need to carry that momentum with them as they prepare to face the hot-hitting Baltimore Orioles (27-23) in the Battle of the Beltways.
The first two games of the home and home series will be played at Nationals Park, and the second two will be held at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The Nationals went 2-4 against their metropolitan rivals last season, losing both series they played, but they will aim to capitalize on the Orioles’ recent weaknesses to capture a winning record against them this season.
Baltimore is in second place in the AL East – behind a two-way tie between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox – but they have been struggling in May. They had a seven-game losing streak going through the middle of the month, but snapped out of it to win a series over the Yankees and split a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays.
O Is For Offense
The Nationals picked the right time to liven up their bats if they want to keep up with the Orioles’ offense. They will take the .324 batting average they put together in their last series against the Philadelphia Phillies to their meeting with the Orioles, a team that is among the leaders of Major League Baseball in almost every offensive category.
The Orioles have the highest slugging percentage of all major league teams (.460), the second-highest batting average (.273), the second-most runs scored (253), the second-most stolen bases (38) and the most doubles (113).
The Nationals’ offensive numbers do not come close to Baltimore’s, though recently they have been doing better with situational hitting. Even so, the Nationals are going to need to come out with bats blazing to out-score the Orioles, who are averaging 5.06 runs per game, while the Nationals are averaging 3.46.
Most notable of their offensive accomplishments, the Orioles also lead the majors with 69 home runs, coupled with a shockingly low number of strikeouts for a team of power hitters (319 – third lowest).
Chris Davis leads the majors with 16 home runs, and he hit four in the past week. All but one of the Orioles’ qualified hitters has hit a home run in the last seven games. The outlier is third baseman Manny Machado, who at 20 years old has the second-most hits in all of baseball (72), and the most doubles (22).
The O’s are one home run shy of having hit double the home runs the Nationals have hit in May (37 to 16), although the Nationals’ home runs recently set a franchise record. When Adam LaRoche hit one out of the park on Saturday, the Nationals had hit at least one home run in their last 72 consecutive series, going back to 2011. The only other team that has a longer streak is the Texas Rangers, with 81 consecutive series with home runs.
Despite their strength in the batter’s box, the Orioles’ pitching staff has given up almost as many home runs as their offense has hit. Their 62 home runs allowed is fourth in the majors, compared to the Nationals’ 41, which is tied for fifth lowest. In 2012 the Nationals allowed the second-fewest home runs all season, and they have continued that trend of limiting home runs in 2013.
The matchup of power hitting and power pitching will make this an interesting series to watch, as it will be seen if Baltimore’s sluggers or Washington’s pitchers prevail in the battle of the long ball.
The Nationals will face right-hander Kevin Gausman, who was selected fourth overall in the 2012 draft, on Tuesday in what will be the rookie’s second Major League start.
In his first start against the Toronto Blue Jays he pitched five innings, and allowed four earned runs on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts. However, as the Orioles’ number two prospect rising through the minors, Gausman was exceptional. In eight starts at the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate, Gausman threw 46 1/3 innings for a 3.11 ERA with 49 strikeouts and only five walks.
The Nationals will not only have to worry about rookie power during the four-game set, they will also have to stand up against a veteran pitcher who has an outstanding record against them: Jason Hammel. In seven starts against Washington, Hammel has a 5-0 record, and has held the Nats to a .253 batting average with 20 strikeouts.
However, Hammel has had spotty success this year. He has not pitched a complete seven innings yet this season, and has a 5.37 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP.
Another of Baltimore’s pitchers who has had less than expected success is closer Jim Johnson. Though Johnson led the majors last year with 51 saves in 54 opportunities, he has converted only one save in his last five attempts since May 14. He has given up 12 earned runs, two of them home runs, in that span with three walks and two strikeouts in a total of five innings pitched.
The Orioles’ pitching is not their strength. Their 4.44 ERA ranks 25th in the majors. So if the Nationals can take advantage of their weaknesses on the mound, they will have a chance at overpowering their strong offense and winning the series.