Orioles-Nationals in World Series?
Could the speculation being bantered about along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. and in Fells Point in Baltimore about a possible World Series meeting between the city’s baseball teams come true?
Or is it more likely a World Series between teams just as close in proximity — the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers — be more apt to be on the late October calendar?
Baltimore has its trusted starting pitching — minus Ubaldo Jimenez — and its bat-quieting bullpen of Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton to give it postseason might. A quailty defense led by shortstop J.J. Hardy, outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and infielders Steve Pearce and Jonathan Schoop give the Birds reason to harbor rich dreams.
Home runs got Baltimore to its unaccustomed perch atop the American League East. But home runs could be an endangered species against pitchers like Scherzer, Price and Porcello of the menacing Detroit Tigers.
None of Baltimore’s pitchers is as talented as Scherzer.
But the Tigers have a limp bullpen, both in middle relief and with their struggling closer, as compared with Baltimore’s mostly effective late-game trio.
Chris Tillman often has early-game troubles with his curveball. Bud Norris keeps the opposition in check and has been as consistent as the Old Bay on steamed crabs. Wei-Yin Chin won’t pitch a shutout and has been too longball happy to win a low-run game. Miguel Gonzalez will see a Detroit team that will accept his walks and score with its own home runs.
Who will Buck Showalter play at third base? Or at second base? The Baltimore manager seems to know that Schoop has little or no chance against the first three Detroit starters. And Jimmy Paredes is a liability in the field no matter where he plays.
Showalter is more likely to open the Detroit series with Kelly Johnson and Ryan Flaherty in his infield.
Caleb Joseph looked completely lost at the plate in the season’s last two-and-a-half weeks. Showalter likes his defense, so he could play even with his constant strikeouts and runners left on base. Markakis was hitting below .200 for most of September but awoke against the Yankees last week. Hardy also saw his batting average nose dive as the regular season closed. Jones will be given his opportunities to swing at pitches in the dirt and a foot outside and he’ll take his cuts at too many pitches he can’t reach.
Alejandro De Aza is a key figure for the Birds. If Pearce isn’t the MVP of the series against the Tigers, then Baltimore could be eliminated early.
Nelson Cruz needs more of those seeing-eye singles he had against the Yankees at the end to be of much help.
The Tigers are only an average defensive team, but they can usually manufacture runs without the aid of home runs. Torii Hunter and Ian Kinsler need to help Miguel Cabrera and the two Martinezes in the middle of the Detroit lineup.
Baltimore will thrive or dive with its pitchers because for 162 games there were far too many of its own strikeouts, too few walks, very ordinary team speed, and no real leadoff or No. 2 hitter after Manny Machado was gone with another injury.
An excellent overall defense and nine quality pitchers are Baltimore’s trump cards. A short series where three wins are enough have been won by defense and pitching ever since the Orioles swept four games from the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series.
Washington brings to the postseason five starting pitchers with valid credentials. The Nationals will probably send out Stephen Strasburg to start their first game. Like Tillman and Brian Gausman of the Orioles, Strasburg has too many early-game problems.
Jordan Zimmermann would be my choice as the first-game starter. Zimmermann, the late-closing Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark have made Washington a team with pitcher-rich taste.
Only Tyler Clippard and the effectiveness of new closer Drew Storen were to be trusted in the bullpen. If the Nationals stay away from Rafael Soriano, Ross Detwiler, Matt Thornton, Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen they can go far.
Washington’s defense has excellence in Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche, Denard Span and Asdrubal Cabrera. Even Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper are adequate in the field.
What will manager Matt Williams and his front office executives do with Ryan Zimmerman?
Washington batters love to take walks. There is some versatility with the offense. Home runs are not always needed to score runs. There are no .210 hitters lurking in the strikeout shadows like Baltimore has in too-high numbers. The Nationals generally get enough base runners to either win or stay close until the very end.
Wilson Ramos can hit. Span gets on base. Desmond drives in a few more runs than his leaky, shortstop glove gives back. Werth and LaRoche are always dangerous. Rendon scores runs in bunches. Cabrera finds ways to help.
But left-handed pitchers can keep Washington in check at times.
Getting its starting pitchers deep into games is a real key to any Washington success.
Will it be Anacostia and Ward 8 representative Marion Barry against Joppatown/Old Bay seasoning/Inner Harbor? Or will the Orioles find too few home runs and too many strikeouts to move through Detroit and anybody else they see that has just as much starting pitching?