Zach Wilt: What makes a rivalry?

The purists tell me that interleague play doesn’t belong in baseball. If they’re fans of the National League, they despise the use of the designated hitter, and if they root for a team in the American League, vise versa. Personally, I’ve never understood the disdain on either side. In fact, interleague rivalry week is one of my favorite parts of the long baseball season.

What makes a true sports rivalry? Some people argue that because the Orioles and Nationals don’t play in the same division - or same league, for that matter - they cannot be labeled as rivals. These people obviously aren’t on Twitter when the Battle of the Beltways is going down. While I would hesitate the list this combat for the superior interstate as a true rivalry myself, I can see the passion between Baltimore and Washington fans when the two teams square up each season.

A crowd of 41,260 filled Nationals Park to capacity on Memorial Day for the first of four (two in Washington and two in Baltimore) between the O’s and Nats. The loyal Orioles fans I know who made the trek informed me that they saw more orange in stands than they did red. I’m sure Nationals fans would dispute that claim.

A season ago, more than 250,000 came to Nats Park and Camden Yards to watch the O’s and Nationals duke it out in, what the fans have started calling, “The MASN Cup.” Washington drew crowds of 36,680, 42,331 and 41,918 while Baltimore brought in 45,891, 46,298, 41,794. If there isn’t a rivalry between these two teams, then why so much interest?

The similarities between these two franchises, who are separated by just 35 miles, are pretty astounding. Both broke lengthy postseason droughts in 2012 and played in the division series of their respective leagues. Washington won the NL East with 98-64 regular season, while Baltimore won a wild card after its 93-69 finish.

Twenty-year-olds Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are two of their league’s premiere young talents and the cause of much debate between fans in the DMV. Nats fans will point to Harper’s power upside or aggressive style, while Orioles fans will highlight Machado’s league-leading 75 hits on the season or his Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base. I’m just grateful that these two talents play in our neck of the woods.

Two of the game’s best managers lead these teams, Buck Showalter in Baltimore and Davey Johnson in D.C. No matter what Orioles fans think of the Nats, they always have a soft spot for Johnson, who led their previous winning team to the postseason in the late 90s. As the skipper in Baltimore, Johnson’s Orioles won 88 games in 1996 and 98 the following season.

There’s much discussion about Washington’s stellar pitching staff, which has posted a 3.53 ERA (seventh-best in all of baseball) over 451 1/3 innings. The Orioles find themselves ranked 23rd on that list with a 4.39 ERA on the season. However, their offense is hitting .275/.332/.459 (second-highest average, fifth-highest on-base percentage, highest slugging percentage in the league). Washington is down at the bottom with a .230/.292/.367 slash line.

As it turns out, the Battle of the Beltways (or MASN Cup) comes down some of the baseball’s best pitching against its top hitters. Sprinkle in two fan bases who want to prove that their team reigns supreme in this region and you’ve got yourself some pretty exciting baseball.

Maybe that’s a rivalry after all.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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