Similarities between Nats and O's striking after series split

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Nationals and Orioles. The two teams are 35 miles apart, and over the past six years have each undergone their own organizational rebuilds, which are now at different stages.

Of course, the Nationals won the World Series in 2019. The Orioles began their rebuild that year after a 47-115 season in 2018, which led to the hiring of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde, and the drafting of Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall selection.

The Nats didn’t start their rebuild until halfway through the 2021 season by trading Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers. Then it really became a reality the following summer when they traded Juan Soto to the Padres for a package of five top prospects while the superstar outfielder was still two years away from free agency.

The time in between the respective rebuilds gave the Orioles a head start, and here they are six years later with one of the best records in baseball fresh off an American League East title and their first postseason appearance since 2016.

That’s where the Nationals hope to be in the coming years. But with the way the first edition of this year’s Beltway Series went – a two-game split with a wild back-and-forth finale last night – the similarities between the two teams are even more striking.

Both teams have superstar shortstops in the making: CJ Abrams for the Nats and Gunnar Henderson for the Orioles.

“Their shortstop is really good. I don't get to see him play every day,” manager Davey Martinez said ahead of the two-game series against the Birds. “I can tell you our shortstop is really good. Do I want him to be in D.C. for a long time? Very much so, yeah. They're both very good young athletes. We got some good ones here in the D.C. area, so it's gonna be fun to watch those two play.”

Indeed, it was. Henderson delivered a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning last night. Abrams delivered the tying RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings.

Both teams have their young catcher in place for the foreseeable future: Keibert Ruiz for the Nats and Rutschman for the Orioles. And both teams have some of the top prospects in the sport on the cusp of the major leagues: James Wood and Dylan Crews for the Nats and Jackson Holliday and Coby Mayo for the Orioles.

Heck, both teams even have Joe Maddon's former bench coaches with the Cubs: Martinez for the Nats and Hyde for the Orioles. They were each hired to their current positions from Chicago one year apart.

But even with all the history, connections and proximity of these two teams, some within the organizations still don’t believe it has developed into a true rivalry.

“Honestly, no, it really hasn't,” Martinez said. “I got a lot of respect for, you know, I was with Hyde for a very long time in Chicago. He's a good man. He's a good manager. But I got a lot of respect for what they do and I know that they feel the same way about what we do here. So we're gonna go out there and we're gonna compete. … We know they have a very good young team. We got a very good young team. We're playing pretty good right now. So it should be fun. To me, the fans should be excited. Two teams that are very close, so it should be a fun couple of days.”

The Orioles’ rebuild happened quicker than most people expected. After 110 losses in 2021, the 2022 Birds finished above .500 at 83-79, then reached the playoffs last year with high expectations entering this campaign.

With the Nats finally getting over the .500 hump for the first time since July 1, 2021 after Tuesday’s win, it’s easy to compare them to that 2022 Orioles squad.

That O’s team didn’t start as well as this Nats team, however. Through the first 36 games in 2022, the Orioles were 14-22, right in the middle of what would be a six-game losing streak. These current Nationals are sitting at 18-18 through 36 games.

The Orioles rode strong stretches in July (.640 winning percentage) and August (.630) en route to finishing four games above .500. That season also saw then-top prospects Rutschman and Henderson make their major league debuts.

The 2024 Nationals will go through some tough stretches later this season. But they’ve avoided the rough start that plagued them last year and the O’s in 2022.

If they continue the pace they’re on, a big leap to or above .500 by season’s end is totally in the realm of possibility. And if they reach that, a trajectory back toward the playoffs similar to that of the O’s is also in the realm of possibility.

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