It’s finally here.  The Washington-Baltimore Parkway showdown.  Ben’s Chili Bowl vs. Old Bay.  Port City Optimal Wit vs. Natty Bo.  West Wing vs. The Wire.  Sonny vs. Johnny U.  You know the drill.  The upstart Nationals face the establishment Orioles (who rightfully still have more than a few fans on the left bank of the Potomac) in what just one week ago looked like it was going to be a duel of division leaders.  Bring on your area angst. 

The Nationals enter this week’s two-city, four-game showdown eight and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East while the Orioles are staring up the standings at Boston and Toronto.  Two and a half games separate the three teams and with the Red Sox pitching taking personal days from time to time the order of the three teams could very well change by the end of this sentence.  Both the Blue Jays and Sox boast run differentials (TOR +95, BOS +116) far superior to the Orioles (+18).  With the Birds’ lack of solid starting pitching (26th in ERA and that is with Chris Tillman factored in) is it only a matter of time before they fade?

Comparing the two teams 123 games into the season, the Nats have actually scored more runs (600 to 579) than the O’s despite hitting .255 to the Birds’ .262.  Pitching shows more separation, with the Nationals ERA ranking 2nd for starters, relievers and overall.  The Orioles?  Twenty-sixth for starters, 6th for relievers and 21st overall.  Thank goodness for Orioles Magic.

Sayonara Saturn- while driving home from the Nationals’ 8-5 loss to Atlanta August 12th, my Saturn Ion suddenly lost the “hitch in its giddyup”.  After 13+ years and 240,000 miles the vehicle finally met its end on Fairfax Drive in Arlington.  Thankfully I was able to push the vehicle the necessary 3/10 of a mile with help from a few bros getting out of Ballston bars at the time.  Evidently the motor is a very important and crucial part of driving.  And unfortunately even if said motor was reconstructed the mechanic notified me, “Your car has a lot of other issues too.”  Akin to telling the heart patient that there isn’t just ventricle damage, but they’re missing one kidney and the liver is where one of their lungs should be.  Sadly my Moody Blues CD “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” remains stuck in the CD player.

Last Week’s Heroes- all Bryce Harper needed was five games off…the cleanup hitter cleaning up by hitting .407 with 2 HR and 10 RBI.  Anthony Rendon hit .370 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 3.  Ryan Zimmerman comes off the DL to go 4-8 with a home run.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez posts the best start of the rotation by striking out 11 over 7 innings.  Mark Melancon tallies 3 saves in 3 opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ben Revere hit .182 while Danny Espinosa hit .136 with 10 strikeouts.  Both present great defensive value but the lineup can’t simply give away outs.  With Zimmerman healthy and Daniel Murphy moving back to second base, Trea Turner (still a sparkplug atop the order) gets pushed to centerfield or shortstop.  Despite his error Sunday, Turner looks to be a centerfield fit for this season.  Stephen Strasburg had a rough hiccup last Wednesday, coughing up 9 earned runs over an inning and two thirds.  Do we view that as an isolated incident or part of a bigger picture this August (1-3, 10.19 ERA)?

Game to Watch- Thursday in DC the series finale pits Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) against Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.76).  While both have staggered as of late (Scherzer has a 6.97 ERA over his last two starts while Tillman over his last five outings is 1-3 with a 6.66 ERA), I’m thinking both revert to form on the big stage.

Game to Miss- after all of this inter-city angst, I’ll be exhaling Friday evening when Colorado comes to town. Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.30 ERA) pitches against Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-1, 13.50) who will be making his second career start.  Your perfect opportunity to enjoy one last summer Friday night at Tony & Joes on the Georgetown Waterfront.

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