You can cut the tension with a knife for baseball fans in the DC area. Both the Orioles and Nats squared up their division series yesterday at 2-2 and in dramatic fashion. Let’s look at both team’s prospects.
By anybody’s best estimate these guys should be out of it. Going into the division series against the Yankees, you’d have to make the Yankees the prohibitive favorites with their wealth of playoff experience and the ability to reset their pitching rotation. What’s shocking so far is how the Orioles pitching has handled the middle of the Yankee batting order with the Bombers getting virtually zero production from A-Rod, Cano, and Teixeira. A-Rod is now a huge sideshow that’s got to be troubling for Yanks manager, Joe Girardi.
The Orioles have played badly enough to get swept in three. Poor hitting, inability to advance runners, base running gaffes, and suspect fielding have been painful to watch and the young stars are struggling. Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters are in their first playoff season and the inexperience is showing. Jones and Davis are expanding the strike zone to the point where opposing pitchers pepper them with sliders in the dirt for easy strikeouts. O’s closer Jim Johnson is riding a four-appearance roller coaster, and despite suffering the loss in game one and a blown save in game three, apparently still has his head screwed on right. J.J. pitches to a lot of contact and unfortunately that has come in the form of home runs in critical junctures. To this point, the clear MVP has been Darren O’Day. The Yanks can’t touch him. The whole squad with the exception of Nate McLouth and the playoff savvy Joe Saunders, is clearly suffering from a lack of post-season experience, yet they are still alive. Win or lose, the constant pressure of these very meaningful games will do wonders for them as they bank the experience, mature, and form the nucleus of contending Oriole teams for years to come. Will either team start to hit in game five? Can the magic continue?
Clearly the favorites in this match-up with the defending world champion Cardinals, the Nats got a huge momentum building win in game four with the Jason Werth walk-off homer, and staved off elimination. Unlike most, I did not like their chances before the series started and felt that the Stephen Strasburg shutdown was wrong and was draining any killer mentality the Nats had. You felt it when going to the park when Strasburg pitched. The Nats had their ace, their stopper out there, and the other team knew they were going to get their butt kicked. It’s a tremendous confidence boost in sports to feel dominant and to know your opposition feels dominated. That is clearly missing and I’m surprised the Nats have lasted. With Gio Gonzalez going in game five, you have to make them very slight favorites, with or without the killer instinct.
From an entertainment perspective, you can’t top the excitement, but I’m bleary-eyed. Went to the first O’s playoff game and got to bed at 1:30 a.m. Games three and four were extra innings affairs and have gone deep into the night. The adrenalin rush from Werth’s walk off was incredible. Both game fives tonight will stretch me from 5:00 p.m. to midnight and beyond. Very glad the Tigers defeated Oakland because if the O’s advance, they won’t be faced with later start times in the Pacific timezone. If the Nats win they’ll play some games in San Francisco, so put on a pot of coffee and let’s play ball!