The Birds squandered their chances of a Beltway sweep in losing to the Washington Nationals 9-3 under DC’s blonde sunshine yesterday afternoon. Wei-Yin Chen was fairly effective in his first two innings of work, retiring five of the first six batters. However Chen seemed to lose some of his luster after awhile due to the fact that he got away from his fastball. When he spoke to the media after the game, Chen said that he felt his fastball wasn’t as good as it normally is, so he started going to offspeed pitches. Catcher Luis Exposito confirmed this as well, and took part of the blame on himself for calling those pitches. One way or the other, it played into Washington’s hands.
The O’s jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Xavier Avery scored on Nick Markakis’ RBI-double. Avery is making Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette’s jobs very difficult moving forward because they’re going to have to decide what to do once Nolan Reimold comes back. Avery is looking like he could be a decent guy batting lead off, and without a doubt he brings a lot of pep to the lineup with his blazing speed. Avery added to the lead in the second with a two RBI-single up the middle. As for Nick Markakis, he haunted Nationals’ pitching all weekend with two homers and then the RBI-single yesterday.
Part of National League baseball of course is the fact that the pitchers hit, and Stephen Strasburg certainly did a few things for his own cause yesterday. He led off the last of the third with a single that started a game-tying rally. In the fourth Washington took the lead on Jesus Flores’ solo home run, which Strasburg followed with one of his own (his first big league home run). This is partly where Wei-Yin Chen is coming from when he says that he threw too many off speed pitches. In general pitchers aren’t the greatest hitters in the world, although occasionally you find one that can swing the stick in a halfway decent manner (Strasburg appears to be in that category). So in general, pitchers pitch their counterparts with straight heat; Strasburg’s home run came on a hanging curve ball from Chen. Ironically, both pitchers were lifted earlier than their managers would have liked; Strasburg after five innings with arm stiffness, and Chen after 4.1 innings. Chen apparently strained his non-throwing wrist swinging in his first at-bat, and manager Buck Showalter told him not to swing any longer in future at-bats as a result.
After winning the first two games of the series you almost feel as if you dropped two-of-three by losing the finale. However let’s not forget that this is a first-place team we’re talking about. Someone asked me yesterday if I felt that we saw “the real Orioles” yesterday in that they only scored three runs on six hits while committing one error and a host of other defensive miscues. My response was that you have to look at the full body of work in anything. The O’s have had a lot more games like the previous two than they have like yesterday’s. Here’s an interesting parallel; last year in the DC series the Nats took the first two games and the O’s won the third one on the heels of a sloppy defensive afternoon by the Nats. Washington snapped an eight or nine game winning streak that day, and I overheard MASN/Nationals’ commentator F.P. Santangelo saying that when winning streaks are snapped it’s rarely a tough “grind it out” game. Generally it’s pretty ugly all in all, which is exactly what we saw yesterday as the Orioles snapped a five-game winning streak. Will the Orioles lose another game sometime soon? Absolutely. However anyone that thinks the season is over due to this loss is…just plain wrong!
Tonight the Orioles return home and to American League play as the Boston Red Sox come to town for a three-game series. The Orioles will see Clay Buchholtz and his 7.77 ERA this evening. However in his previous start last week against Tampa he struck out five and walked only one batter. The Red Sox in general have seemingly come back “up to earth” just a bit, and they’re riding high after taking two-of-three in Philadelphia over the weekend. The Orioles will trot Tommy Hunter back out to the mound tonight; Hunter gave up two runs over seven innings last week in Kansas City, and has looked better since he was sent to the minors for three days at the beginning of the month.
While the O’s couldn’t complete the sweep, taking two-of-three from Washington on the road should speak volumes. In watching ESPN’s Sunday Night game last night the commentators were talking about the O’s. Orel Hersheisser said that while some people such as myself continue to throw in the “it’s still early” moniker, he “doesn’t know how early it still is.” Based on preseason predictions I suppose Washington should have at least taken two-of-three in this series (if not swept it). However instead we had our very first “Battle of the Beltways” that had any sort of meaning aside from bragging rights. Based on current records and based on the results of the weekend, it should be obvious to even the most impartial person out there who the better team is at the moment in the mid-Atlantic region.
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