Until that paragraph is proven false, nothing in sports in this region will approach the titillation in that possibility. Both teams’ players respect and like each other. The ownerships dislike each other and are in court proving just how much in a cable-TV-money food fight with tens of millions at stake. And the emotions of fans in the two cities fall all along the spectrum — from love ’em both, to love one, like the other, to love one, absolutely loathe the other. In other words, the stage is perfectly set.
A month ago, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said to me: “The Nationals have got a great team. I think we’re going to see them again.” There’s only one way that can happen.
A week ago, Nats minor league director Bob Boone ruminated on what teams the Nats least wanted to face in the postseason. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, the Cardinals outscored the Nats head-to-head, 25-12, this season and Oakland absolutely clubbed Washington, 21-4, in a three-game sweep in the spring when the Nats were injured. But, attracted by the fascination with what’s most difficult, Boone said: “If we get there, the O’s always play us tough. And not just this year.”
Where is “there?” Nobody ever says the words. Bad luck. But “there” is now dead ahead and clearly in view. Since the All-Star Game, the Nats and O’s have the two best records in baseball and the two best team ERAs, too. Washington has the best five-man starting rotation in the sport and the Orioles’ seven-man bullpen has a 2.12 ERA over its past 70 games. Baltimore has hit 55 more homers than any team in the playoffs, yet the Nats stand just one spot behind them in runs scored, eighth to ninth in MLB. Since late May, the Nats rank first, the O’s second in margin of victory, well ahead of everybody else.
The cream rose. And it was them.
This week, ESPN’s Jayson Stark polled 15 top MLB executives whose teams were not in the playoffs. An insane 12 of the 15 picked the Nats to go to the World Series and 11 picked them to win it. Their AL pennant pick, with seven of 15 votes, far ahead of any other team, was the Orioles.
The only place in baseball where a Nats-O’s World Series is still seen rationally, as perhaps a 20 percent possibility, with just as good a chance that one or both teams have a horrid quick crash, is in Washington and Baltimore. Well, it’s about time we cut that out. Everybody else sees how much fun we should be having, whether it pans out or not. Get out the silly hats and horns, for crying out loud.
West Coast money has installed the two Los Angeles teams as slight favorites in Las Vegas to win their pennants — both at 2-to-1. The Nats are 5-to-2 and the Orioles 3-to-1 to reach the series. Nobody at my house ever thought that last sentence would be typed. But in baseball, where momentum and hot pitchers are worshipped more than graven images, D.C. and Baltimore are now trendy and smart picks.
Diligent fans know the Tigers beat the Orioles five of six games this season. Detroit’s three Cy Young Award winning pitchers are supposed to be the worst possible first-round matchup for the Orioles and their $12 million five-man rotation. The Nats could also catch the Pirates in the first round — the second-hottest team in the NL behind the Nats. That’d be a donnybrook. So, by next week, without even a major upset, both Washington and Baltimore could be out of the tournament. But everybody knows “anything can happen in October,” so it’s not useful information.
What is pertinent? Grasping a sense of this moment. We could wait decades for a year when these teams, both financially healthy, but neither with New York or Los Angeles money, have such sane October hopes.
Of all the local sports prospects of my lifetime, nothing matches the fun index of an entire World Series played in ballparks 40 miles apart with as many as seven games jammed into nine days. In theory, more than 900,000 playoff tickets could be for sale in the two parks with more than 300,000 of them for a long World Series. For once, you might actually get to attend some of The Biggest Games.
I really don’t think that this region has ever seen anything like what this October could hold — if we are lucky.
How can anybody not wish for something that’s this ridiculously entertaining: drama building through three weeks of league playoffs, followed by day-after-day of World Series. You almost have to explain yourself if you don’t want to witness this outcome. Even if you hate the Orioles (or just their owner), or despise the Nats (come, come, do such villains exist?) don’t you want to crush the club you loathe on the stage where it pains them most? Family’s riven asunder. And you think politics gets bitter?
By Thursday, when the Orioles host those nasty Tigers, and Friday, when the Nats’ NL Division Series starts, all cart-before-the-horse thoughts, all temptations to “get ahead of ourselves” must be banished. If the Nats are thinking about the O’s, or the Birds of the Nats, they’re already halfway to a quick exit.
But we’ve still got a day — just one day — to fantasize.
Cross your fingers. Toes, too. There are three weeks of hurdles ahead. Something this much fun almost never comes to pass. Except that this time it actually might.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.