Nats-Yanks 2012: The Battle for the East Heats Up


After taking six out of six games away from home against two of the AL’s strongest clubs, the Washington Nationals (38-23) are looking as hungry as ever.  More importantly, however, they are finally playing to their potential and are on pace for 100+ wins this season (under the new playoff format, analysts believe 90 wins will be enough for at least a wild card spot).  Last weekend, they blew through Boston, mowing down the Red Sox with stellar pitching from the top of the rotation and even frustrating them to the point of multiple ejections.  Then, when reporters predicted Nats hitters would struggle in the tough Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre early this week, the wins just kept coming and fans were treated to a whopping eight homeruns by Nationals hitters, half of those coming from rookies on this young, talented squad.

Despite the toasts (or lack thereof) that have come from this exciting six-game win streak, the Nationals will return home Friday for a weekend series against arguably the MLB’s toughest, most determined ballclub year after year: the New York Yankees (37-25).

After struggling to find their footing earlier this season, the Yanks have found themselves back in their natural home in the standings.  That is, first place in the AL East.  They’ve won nine of their last ten games, currently sport a six game win streak like the Nats and swept the Braves on Wednesday night after comfortably winning all three in the most recent episode of the Subway Series against the Mets.  The Yankees have been riding the bat of the ever-reliable Derek Jeter throughout this season, and the sure hall-of-famer now holds an admirable .316 batting average less than two weeks short of his 38th birthday.

With this series between two first-place teams rapidly approaching, there are a couple players to watch on both squads that will certainly spark conversation in the extremely crowded Nationals Park Friday through Sunday.  For the Nats, Gio Gonzalez takes the mound Friday and will need to have another terrific outing to get this set off to a good start for the hometown team.  Gio hasn’t allowed more than three runs since his first start on April 7 and currently ranks 7th in the MLB in ERA at 2.35.  Beyond Gio, one cannot deny that all eyes will be on rookie Bryce Harper in this series—many have even noted that the young superstar could land a FAT pinstripe contract after his rookie deal expires in six years.  But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  ESPN analyst Buster Olney tweeted Wednesday that after batting .267 with 2 HR and 9 RBIs in his first 25 games, Harper has since hit .368 with 5 homers and 10 RBIs in his last 15 outings.

As for the Yankees, definitely look out for first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has hit 8 of his 11 homers and 8 of his 13 doubles away from Yankee Stadium.  While Ivan Nova may be lucky to have eight wins despite a lackluster 4.64 ERA, the young Dominican is coming off four straight wins in that many starts.  He’ll pitch Sunday against Edwin Jackson, and it will be interesting to see how he uses his nasty breaking balls against these recently energized Nationals hitters.

Regardless of matchup, this series looks to be one of the most fun and anticipated so far this season.  As Nat Pack energizer/enthusiast Terrance aka “Sice Box” remarks, “Bring on the DAMN Yankees!!!!”