But the reasons for that support, and big weekday crowds, are obvious.
The Orioles lead MLB in runs, home runs (75, a pace for 225), stolen bases, slugging percentage and Muscles Above Replacement. True, only three teams have a worse ERA than the Orioles. While the Nats’ struggling hitters may regain their career norms, ugly pitching goes straight to the bone.
As flawed as the Nats hitting and the O’s pitching may be, the future of both young teams is as bright as a new day, with 20-year-old stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (.332), and young veteran all-stars like Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters, Desmond and Adam Jones.
If you don’t want to argue their merits, you don’t like ball. “We’re pretty evenly matched,” said Nats Manager Davey Johnson. “Their offense is running on all cylinders. Our offense has a few flat tires.”
“Right now they are an awfully good offensive club,” said Nats GM Mike Rizzo, pointing to the 57-homer, 150-RBI pace of first baseman Chris (Crush) Davis. “We like our starting pitching and our pitching in general. When healthy, and hitting like we can, we still think we’re as good as any team around.”
Which team has the better chance to reach the playoffs or even dream of winning the World Series? On that, you can get a genuine heated fuss between experts. ESPN number crunchers give the O’s a 34.4 percent chance to make the playoffs, much better than the Nats’ mere 22.3 percent.
However the reigning kings of geekdom reside at Baseball Prospectus. They’re so respected inside the industry that the Nats have a “Baseball Prospectus Day” at Nats Park on July 7. PECOTA, a Baseball Prospectus site, uses computer simulations to project performance. They think the Nats have a 41 percent chance to reach the playoffs and a 3.9 percent to win the Series (down from 11 percent preseason). The Orioles currently have only a 17.9 percent playoff chances, in part because they’re in the tough AL East, a minuscule 0.7 percent chance to win the Series.
The more than 145,000 fans at Nationals Park and Camden Yards this week can be expected to boo all of those dire pontifications.
The Nats’ Zimmerman speaks for the loyalists on both sides who think the best still lies ahead for both franchises.
“How did that [model] work out for them the last couple of years? Not very well, right?” said Zimmerman. “That’s why nerds shouldn’t do that stuff.”
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.