Opposite dugout: Nats bring majors' top pitching staff into Battle of the Beltways

washington-logo-small.pngManager: Matt Williams, first year
Record: 48-39
Last 10 games: 7-3
Who to watch: 1B Adam LaRoche (.294/.401/.482, 12 HR, 45 RBIs); 2B/3B Anthony Rendon (.282/.340/.483, 21 doubles, 12 HR, 50 RBIs); RHP Doug Fister (7-2, 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP); RHP Tanner Roark (7-6, 3.12 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)
Season series vs. O's (2013): 1-3, 17 runs scored, 20 runs allowed

Pitching probables
July 7: Stephen Strasburg vs. Chris Tillman, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
July 8: Doug Fister vs. Bud Norris, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
July 9: Tanner Roark vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 7 p.m., MASN HD
July 10: Gio Gonzalez vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 7 p.m., MASN HD

Series breakdown
With the way the Nationals and Orioles are playing lately, the Battle of the Beltways moniker should be a fitting one.

The Nats are playing perhaps some of their best ball, having won seven of eight games to move a season-best nine games over .500 while the Birds have won six of seven to move a season-high eight games over.

The Nats and O's 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.

The Orioles are catching the Nats at full strength for the first time all season. A once-cluttered disabled list is now clear of major league regulars with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Wilson Ramos all healthy and active.

The Nats stand a half-game back of the scorching Braves for first in the National League East in large part because of an outstanding pitching staff that should make for a must-watch matchup with the Birds' bats.

Washington owns the best collection of arms in the majors, leading the league with a 3.03 ERA. The Nats rotation is sixth in the bigs with a 3.27 ERA while the bullpen is third with a 2.55 ERA.

No Nationals starter has an ERA higher than right-hander Stephen Strasburg's 3.53. All-Star right-hander Jordan Zimmermann leads the way with a 2.79 ERA, but the O's won't have to face him.

They will see the Nats' other four starters, however. Fister is having an exceptional first season with Washington and hasn't allowed more than four runs in any of his last 10 outings with eight quality starts during that stretch. He's 7-2 with a 2.93 ERA.

Gonzalez takes a 22-inning scoreless streak into his start Thursday. He has a 3.52 ERA in 13 starts. Strasburg is coming off a strong start and faces O's opening day starter Chris Tillman tonight in what could be the best pitching duel of the series.

While the bullpen as a whole has been stifling, the strength has been the back end of closer Rafael Soriano and set-up men Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Soriano has 21 saves, a 1.03 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. Storen has a 1.33 ERA and Clippard has a 1.89 ERA.

The Nats have allowed more than three runs just once in the last eight games with two shutouts, allowing 17 runs total (2.1 runs permitted per game).

The offense has come around of late as well with at least seven runs in four of the last seven games. Overall, the Nats rank sixth in the NL with 359 runs and eighth with a .248 average while tying for ninth with 73 homers.

LaRoche and infielder Anthony Rendon have wielded Washington's top bats so far this season. LaRoche leads the club with an .883 OPS while adding 12 homers and 45 RBIs. Rendon has 50 RBIs while adding 21 doubles, 12 homers and an .823 OPS.

Shortstop Ian Desmond paces the team with 15 homers and 53 RBIs, but is batting just .243. Center fielder Denard Span leads the Nats with 28 doubles.

Even though the Nats are doing everything well recently, this series will be all about how their top-ranked pitching staff handles Baltimore's explosive offense with regional bragging rights on the line.

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