Once Major League Baseball instituted interleague play for the 2006 season, the creation of some “natural rivalries” was supposed to be one of the more enticing and interesting recurring aspects. The concept has worked, in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Elsewhere the reaction hasn’t quite been so positive.
But despite the lack of national hype that continues to surround the “Battle of the Beltway”, the budding rivalry between the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles is one that’s soon to take center stage as for the first time the two teams enter the series in contention within their respective divisions.
Washington sits just half a game back in the NL East, with a 23-15 record overall. They’ve spent a mere four days outside of first place in the division. Much of the early success has been thanks to the superior production put forth by the team’s starting rotation. Washington’s pitchers lead the league in ERA, earned runs allowed, strikeouts, and batting average against.
Meanwhile, Baltimore finds themselves in atop the AL East, at 25-14. After defeating the Royals on Thursday 5-3, coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss to the Red Sox, the Orioles have a 1 game lead over the second place Rays. The Orioles have spent just 11 days outside of first place on the season to date. Individually the team doesn’t lead the league in any statistical categories, though they have hit the most home runs in the AL at this point in the season (with 60).
Both organizations are surprising most of the so-called experts and ruining nearly every pre-season prediction. Both are being led by managers who come from that old-school type of play. Both of whom love to infuse the roster with youth and could accurately be considered unconventional.
Perhaps what’s most telling about the two situations, however, is the fact that both teams have been leading the way without much fanfare outside of the Beltway. Sure, ESPN has been showing more of the Nationals’ highlights of late thanks to the arrival of Bryce Harper but they’d be doing so regardless of where the team is in the standings. Harper’s that once-in-a-generation type talent that commands attention. But the Nationals and Orioles should be garnering attention for the production they’ve done on the field as a team and for the way they’ve each handled themselves as an organization to date.
The Battle of the Beltway has long been the ugly stepchild of interleague play’s natural rivalries. Maybe this is the first step towards pushing the New York and Chicago matchups aside while letting someone else the chance to sit at the head of the table.
For more thoughts on this budding rivalry and its importance within the Washington/Baltimore area, my editorial counterpart over at Birds Watcher, Domenic Vadala, has some added insight that’s worth reading.