Manager: Buck Showalter, fifth year
Last 10 games: 7-3
Who to watch: DH/LF Nelson Cruz (.290/.356/.582, 27 HR, 71 RBIs); CF Adam Jones (.310/.334/.504, 16 HR, 53 RBIs); 1B/OF Steve Pearce (.326/.381/.581, 172 at-bats, 14 doubles, 10 HR, 30 RBIs); RHP Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21 ERA)
Season series vs. Nats (2013): 3-1, 20 runs scored, 17 runs allowed
July 7: Chris Tillman vs. Stephen Strasburg, 7 p.m., MASN HD
July 8: Bud Norris vs. Doug Fister, 7 p.m., MASN HD
July 9: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Tanner Roark, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
July 10: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Gio Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
The Orioles and Nationals couldn’t have picked a much better time to renew their regional rivalry.
The Birds are playing perhaps their best ball of the season, having won six of seven to move a season-best eight games over .500 while their nearest neighbor to the south has won seven of eight to move a season-high nine games over.
The Orioles and Nationals play a home-and-home series with the first two games coming at Nats Park before the two teams play Wednesday and Thursday at Camden Yards. This year’s Battle of the Beltways will feature separate booths with the home team’s broadcast airing on MASN HD.
Baltimore enters the series holding a two-game lead over the Blue Jays for first place in the American League East.
While the Orioles’ pitching hasn’t been the most consistent, their offense continues to be intimidating and loaded with power.
The O’s rank fifth in the AL with 385 runs, second in the majors with 107 homers and third in the bigs with a .267 team average. The Birds had a prolific June when it comes to clearing the fence, as they mashed a major league-best 46 homers last month.
Outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz has turned out to be a huge bargain after signing a one-year, $8 million deal with the O’s in the offseason. He’s tied for the major league lead with 27 homers and he’s alone on top with 71 RBIs. He ranks sixth in the AL with a .938 OPS and was voted the AL’s All-Star starter at designated hitter.
Center fielder Adam Jones was elected to the All-Star Game, having hit .310 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs while playing sparkling defense so far this year.
First baseman Chris Davis is having a rough season after his 53-homer performance in 2013, batting .201 in 72 games. He does have solid production numbers with 13 homers and 42 RBIs.
Utility man Steve Pearce has helped make up for that dip in production, emerging as an everyday player with a terrific season thus far. In just 172 at-bats, the 31-year-old is batting .326 with 14 doubles, 10 homers and 30 RBIs. He leads the Orioles with a .962 OPS.
And the offense is even deeper than that with right fielder Nick Markakis having a nice season out of the leadoff spot, shortstop J.J. Hardy’s hitting on the upswing and third baseman Manny Machado back healthy.
The O’s have also been one of the best fielding teams in the majors. They’re tied for second in the league in fielding percentage and have the fourth-fewest errors in the AL.
Baltimore has been solid, but not spectacular on the mound, ranking seventh in the AL with a 3.89 team ERA. The Orioles rotation ranks 10th in the AL with a 4.10 ERA while the bullpen is seventh with a 3.56 ERA.
The pitching matchups for the upcoming series aren’t all solidified with right-hander Bud Norris expected to come off the disabled list Tuesday to start in Washington. Norris has arguably been the O’s most consistent starter with a 3.62 ERA in 14 starts.
But the series opener features a potentially brilliant duel between opening day starters Chris Tillman and Stephen Strasburg. While Tillman’s 4.21 ERA might not look impressive on the surface, the right-hander has turned things around since a rough stretch with a 2.14 ERA over his last five starts.
Orioles pitchers have performed well lately, having surrendered more than four runs only once in the last seven games, and they won that contest on Sunday (7-6 over Boston).
The featured matchup of this series will be Baltimore’s powerful bats against the Nats’ big arms. Pitting one of the majors’ best offenses against the league’s top pitching staff will make for some exciting ball as the Nats and O’s seek regional bragging rights.