On the Battle of the Beltways atmosphere and the Nats’ extra-inning struggles

You might hold the belief that the Battle of the Beltways isn’t really a rivalry, despite some who try and portray it that way. And frankly, you might be right.

It’s not like the Nationals have Orioles games on in the clubhouse and monitor Buck Showalter’s club on a daily basis. It’s not as if Ryan Zimmerman and Chris Davis dislike each other just because these two organizations make their homes 45 minutes from each other.

But rivalry or not, I’d find it tough to argue that the Battle of the Beltways isn’t a cool thing for baseball in the area and something that creates a fun atmosphere.

There was a decent amount of orange sprinkled through the stands at Nats Park last night, and there certainly was a buzz throughout the stadium. “Let’s Go, O’s!” chants cropped up at times and then were overwhelmed with boos, and the cheers from Nats fans were probably a little louder than normal when Anthony Rendon smoked a two-run homer in the sixth to tie the game.

It might not be a rivalry, per se, but for 10 innings, it was a great game between two contending teams. And coming from a guy who grew up in this area, I think that it’s cool to see.

“I think it’s great,” said Nats manager Matt Williams, who got his first taste of the Battle of the Beltways last night. “We talked about it a little bit on the bench. If it was a weekend series, it’d probably be even bigger. Of course, people have to work. But it’s great. It’s a nice rivalry. Different leagues, of course, but everybody from the same area, and two different teams. Good atmosphere.”

Unfortunately for the Nats, things turned sour in the 11th, when the Orioles put up six runs and turned what was a tight ballgame into a laugher.

The loss brought the Nats’ record in extra-inning games this season to 2-8, which is not only surprising given that the team is eight games over .500 on the season, but also because you would expect the Nats to be strong in extra innings given the construction of this team.

The Nats have the third-best bullpen ERA in the majors. They have veteran, experienced hitters who you wouldn’t think would be uncomfortable in clutch, late moments.

So why the poor record in extra innings? Well, the Nats aren’t really sure.

“It’ll turn around,” reliever Craig Stammen said after taking last night’s loss, the Nats’ ninth straight home extra-inning defeat, dating to last season. “Those games even out sooner or later.”

Williams has made the point in the past that the Nats have come back late in a number of games this season, forcing games to extra innings when it looked like they might drop the game in regulation, so to speak. In those situations, Williams has often needed to go to his better relievers just to keep the game within reach, or his better bench bats just in order to tie the game. Then, once the game is in extras, those options are no longer available.

But there’s more to it than that, especially from an offensive perspective. In innings one through nine, the Nats are hitting .249 as a team and are scoring an average of 0.47 runs per inning. In extra innings, they’re hitting .184 as a team, and are scoring an average of 0.29 runs per inning.

Why the drop? Is this an issue with approach? Are guys pressing in those situations?

“I don’t think so,” Williams said. “You have specialty pitchers at the back of bullpens. With the exception of our last inning (last night), you could arguably say the same thing with our guys who came in for three (innings). They’re just specialty pitchers so you can match up.

“I’m not concerned about that. We had opportunity to get it done in the ninth and it didn’t happen for us. Got to be prepared for tomorrow.”

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