The D.M.V. will be a baseball paradise this summer. In years past, the states of Baltimore, DC and Virginia usually simultaneously chuck their summer basketball shorts and cleats to the side and immerse themselves in a variety of pro and college football teams that usually have the undivided attention of that part of the country.
The Orioles hadn’t tasted a division title since 1997. Tuesday night’s AL East-clinching, 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays killed all of that madness.
During manager Buck Showalter’s four years, the O’s have made the playoffs twice and are a step closer to recapturing the franchise’s 1980s glory. Outfielder Adam Jones will be a key ingredient in that effort. And he basked in the glory of his first division crown by smashing fans with pies and then sharing a champagne bath with teammates and media in the locker room.
“We reached a pentacle and big moment in our history and within this clubhouse, “Jones, who was happier than Gucci Man on parole, said. “And these guys worked their tails off.”
Lack of pitching, nor injury or suspension to major players (Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Chris "Crush" Davis) could stop Baltimore from devouring the Al East comp. The O's were just one gam eover .500 on June 16, and trailed Toronto by five games. As Derek Jeter fades into retirement, Showalter, who was Jeter’s first MLB manager way back begins his life as the man behind the men on top of the mountain.
Showalter was in charge of the Yankees' clubhouse when Jeter received his first call to the big leagues, and though Jeter played only 15 games for the 1995 squad, he credits Showalter for allowing him to travel with the team as an inactive player for the playoffs. Showalter was unceremoniously fired by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in favor of Joe Torre, just as the Yankees Dynasty run began in ’96.
"Buck kept me around and allowed me to see what the postseason atmosphere was like, which I think helped me the following year going into the playoffs," Jeter said. "Even though I didn't get a chance to play [in '95], I got a chance to see and feel what the atmosphere was like. I owe him for that."
The Yankees loss has ultimately been the Orioles’ gain and they also owe Buck big.
From 1998-2010 the Orioles had a .438 winning percentage and became a bottom rung MLB squad. Since the arrival of Showalter and his vast baseball knowledge, unquestioned character and strategic power-plays, B-More has won at a .531 clip, soared to the top of the charts and currently floss baseball’s second-best record at 91-60 (LA Angels have 94 wins). After finishing 12 games out last season, this season's O's hold a 13.5 game cushion over the Blue Jays and Yankees. This marks Showalter's second career division title. He also won the NL West with Arizona in 1999 -- two years before the D'Backs upset the Yankees in the World Series.
The Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos from 1969-2004) hit the MLB scene in 2005 and will be making only the third playoff appearance in the franchise's 46 year history. They reached the postseason once as the Montreal Expos in 1981 and on Tuesday they clinched their second NL East title in three years against the Atlanta Braves, a team that knocked them out of the top spot last season.
Atlanta’s collapse—losing 11 of the last 14 games—further damages its hopes of making a third straight playoff appearance as a wild card. They came into the night 4 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh for the second NL wild card and have only 11 games left in the regular season.
The Braves spanked on a down-trodden Nats team in 2013, winning the NL East by 10 games. The script flipped this season as Washington, behind the often-criticized direction of rookie manager Matt Williams , steadily pulled away down the stretch.
Together these talented and rising clubs give the D.M.V region its best chance to host a World Series since the Orioles’ championship in 1983, even stirring thoughts of a Beltway World Series. At the very least local fans are in for a rare October of baseball mania. As long as they both maintain one of the top two records in their respective leagues, four division series playoff games would take place from Oct. 2 to Oct. 4, with both Camden Yards and Nationals Park hosting playoff games Oct. 3.
With RG3 sidelined and the Ravens still formulating a clear picture of life without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Ray Rice, baseball may once again be the savior of a city’s sports fortunes.
In 2012, the Nationals stunned baseball and racked up a major league-leading 98 wins but were beaten by the St. Louis Cardinals in the deciding game of the NL division series. Washington jumped ahead 6-0 after three innings and still led 7-5 going to the ninth, only to give up four runs with two outs.
“We’ve got different personnel,” Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We’ve got more depth. We’re a deeper team. We’re a better team. We’re more experienced. “
In TSL’s Midseason MLB Mash-Up – Part 2, while everyone was patting ATL on its first-place back, I was warning you about those nasty Nats heating up in the second half.
Atlanta Braves (NL East)
“The Braves bring the arms with All- Stars, reliever Craig Kimbrel and 23-year-old starter Julio Teheran . Despite his lack of hitting, Justin Heyward helps make the outfield a black hole for opposing batters. Justin Upton (17 homers, 50 RBI) Elvis Gattis (16 dingers) and Freddie Freeman (.294 BA, 99 hits) help compensate for Heyward’s struggles. Still, there’s a large contingent of baseball minds that believe the Washington Nationals are the better team and will eventually surpass Atlanta as top dawgs in the division.”
The Nats were 63-53 and 2.5 games up on Atlanta on August 11. Since then they are a MLB-best 24-10 and have upped their lead to an insurmountable 12.5 games with 12 games left.
“We’re (also) going to have Stephen Strasburg versus not having Stephen Strasburg,” Werth added. “I think we’re more well-rounded. We were pretty raw in 2012. We’re a little bit more polished now.”
This time GM Mike Rizzo won’t make the same ridiculous decision that I blasted him for in the 2012 piece “ Strasburg Gone, Nats Forgotten, ”when he inexplicably shutdown his 100 percent healthy and dominating rookie sensation right before the franchise’s first-ever playoff appearance.
“By yanking his ace from the rotation leading into the playoffs, Rizzo is sending a clear message to Nats fans and players that Strasburg’s golden arm is worth more to him than everyone else combined. While people are applauding Rizzo for his forward-thinking and caution with Strasburg (who had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2010), other Nats players like Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman have got to be a little ticked.
With Washington’s first postseason berth since 1933 within reach, Rizzo pretty much flattened his team’s chances to win its first World Series ever. Nats players also have to be pissed that, lately, the only major Nats news concerns Strasburg’s innings limit.”
Both squads are better than when they last played Fall Ball in 2012. Baltimore has the power. The Nats have the pitching. Baseball’s autumn winds of change are funny style. It will be a blast watching which D,M.V. team has a better handle on their comic relief.