Because one of baseball’s credos is focusing on the present to succeed, ballplayers and managers usually hate when media and fans look ahead. People who ask questions, talk and dream about a club’s future — forecasting lineups even less than two months away — eventually get the cliched staple from a Matt Williams, Buck Showalter, insert your skipper here:
“We’re not even thinking about that. We’re thinking about tomorrow’s game. That’s as far as anyone in this clubhouse is thinking.”
So it was with great glee that Bryce Harper, near the tail end of the Washington Nationals’ 10-game winning streak this week, displayed such candor when asked whether he could envision his team and the Baltimore Orioles essentially playing for Mid-Atlantic Sports Network legal fees in October.
“Man, it would be so epic to have a Beltway World Series,” Harper said. “Us against them. Have just an amazing crowd every single night. When we play them, it’s pretty insane in both ballparks. That would be pretty incredible for that to happen. Hopefully, we can both get there and make some bigger buzz coming into every single day we play.”
Looking back, as surprisingly good as both clubs were in 2012, it was obviously premature to talk about it. Maybe early July, during their first interleague series this season, was even too early.
But there is that quote from Chris Davis six weeks ago, almost lurking now.
“The crazy thing about it is, we get to play a team that is kind of a National League version of us, and there’s a very good chance that we could see each other in the postseason,” Davis told Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun. “I think that’s really awesome. I don’t know if the people at MLB would really go nuts for a Beltway World Series, but I think it would be really cool.”
Now, with the Nationals six games up on the Braves entering Saturday’s games, with the Orioles up eight on the Yankees entering Saturday, it’s time to stop worrying about jinxing either club. They began Saturday a combined 39 games over .500, and the possibility of a late-October matchup is real.
According to fangraphs.com, the Orioles have a 93.5 percent probability of winning the AL East and the Nats have a 96.9 percent probability of winning the NL East. Statistically speaking, they are seven October wins apiece away from taking their MASN courtroom brouhaha onto the diamond.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos so feared the Nationals would halt his team’s monopolization of the Baltimore-Washington market he actually decreed in 2004 that the area could not support two major league teams. Now, the franchise whose television rights he has held hostage since baseball came back to Washington in 2005 could very well be the last obstacle preventing the miserly owner’s team from winning their first World Series since 1983.
It’s true the Nationals, for all the theater they’ve provided since 2012, have yet to win a single postseason series since coming to Washington. It’s true their bullpen has been so spectacular this season it was almost due for a Rafael Soriano meltdown or two.
But General Manager Mike Rizzo’s ability not to reinvent the wheel every time someone went down, to not mess with the nucleus but instead fill in holes around it, is paying dividends. Ryan Zimmerman is missed in spirit, but shockingly not in body.
Gio Gonzalez is somehow a fifth starter now, and a good one at that. Stephen Strasburg, hold your breath, is weeks away from his first postseason outing.
The Orioles’ ability to overcome injuries is no less impressive, including losing Matt Wieters and, it was learned this week, Manny Machado for the season. Home run numbers for Davis and J.J. Hardy are down, but most everyone else’s are up. The Orioles hit for power and more power.
Many colleagues and close associates cautioned on hyping any sort of matchup featuring the Nationals playing in the Fall Classic, mostly because I have lately been horribly wrong about most every prognostication involving a local team.
But this one I have a feeling about. No, really. I intuitively know in my bones a Beltway World Series has a great chance of happening, the first neighborly series since the Mets-Yankees Subway series in 2000 and before that the A’s-Giants Bay Bridge series in 1989.
A generation of Greater Washington fans may be torn, of course, especially since the Orioles were essentially their team between 1972 and 2004. Talk to the legions who remember and they insist Earl Weaver, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray became as revered and cherished in the District and Virginia in the 1980s as Joe Gibbs, John Riggins and Art Monk.
The Orioles were, by all accounts, Washington’s major league team. The Post’s former sports editor used to have season tickets to the Orioles. Thomas Boswell practically lived in the press boxes of Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards.
Meeting the Birds in the World Series would be a heart-tugging challenge for so many, much like your first love pining for you again at your most vulnerable moment.
But it’s pretty easy to choose sides once you remember what the Orioles manager said at Nationals Park in July. “You realize how big an area this was for the Orioles before our owner was kind enough to let them have a team here,” Buck Showalter said.
Angelos is a man who still owns the majority of a cable network whose most recognizable players are not even in his own employ. Baltimore has been poaching off the fame and celebrity of Harper, Strasburg, Jayson Werth and others for years.
Not only that, but I’m still happy Davey Johnson took a shot at his former club while with Washington. Sick and tired of every Baltimorean provincially turning the Star Spangled Banner into their fight song, Davey said, “I hope I don’t hear, during the national anthem, the ‘Ohs!’ too loud. But I probably will.”
So when this does go down in two months, the civic bet between mayors should not involve Charm City sending Natty Bohs and crab cakes south. Or the nation’s capital sending political divide and half-smokes from Ben’s Chili Bowl north.
No. The Orioles win and Angelos gets to keep his greedy TV revenues and his fans can shout “Oh!” as much as they unpatriotically want. But the Nationals win: Buck and Baltimore shut their pie hole during the national anthem and Ted Lerner gets MASN.