Orioles, Nationals spark dreams of 'Battle of the Beltways' World Series

WASHINGTON — This is not the first time that the Orioles and Washington Nationals both have reached midseason with a chance to make the playoffs, but it might be the first time anyone seriously considered the possibility of a "Battle of the Beltways" World Series.

Both teams were in contention in 2012. The Nationals were in first place for all but three days of that season, and the Orioles were redistilling the concept of "Oriole Magic" with a collection of strange and wonderful moments that eventually would propel them into the first-ever American League wild-card game.

It was a great year, but it would take more than half a season for anyone to believe that the Nationals were for real and the Orioles were really going to end their string of 14 straight losing seasons and the playoff drought that came with it.

That's why this year is different. That's why the concept of an All-Mid-Atlantic Fall Classic seems a lot more plausible as the interleague home-and-home series moves to Camden Yards on Wednesday.

"I think this is a better team than that team, I really do," first baseman Chris Davis said. "That's no discredit to the 2012 team. It was a very good team. But we had so many things go right for us that year, with the extra-inning wins and the one-run games. They talk about Orioles Magic, and everybody has fun with that, but it really was a magical season.

"There were certain things that happened, like when I pitched in a freaking game that we won. Things happen like that, and you're like 'Man, this could be our year.' But this team is just so much more experienced, so much deeper and so much better prepared to be a postseason team."

The same goes for the Nationals, who were a very credible contender in 2012, but came up short in the National League Division Series in part because they chose to shelve 15-game winner Stephen Strasburg in early September when he neared a predetermined innings plateau.

They appear to be a more seasoned and complete team than the one that won 98 games two years ago and -- like the Orioles -- exceeded even their own expectations.

There is a long way to go, but the series opener Monday night pitted two highly regarded teams that featured good starting pitching, solid relief and a standoff that only ended when the Orioles erupted with three home runs in the top of the 11th inning.

So, it was natural to ask Orioles manager Buck Showalter before Tuesday night's rained-out  short-series finale at Nationals Park whether he believed that both teams were good enough to still be around at the end of October.

"Oh, wouldn't that be nice, for us," he said. "I know they are. I was thinking last night, 'This is a good team we're playing. It's a good baseball game, it's a good atmosphere, guys are pitching well and it's a crisp game. I'd like to think it was just two good baseball teams competing. You don't want to hear it if you get beat, but they're a good team. I just hope we're considered in that light when this is all done."

Davis, whose dramatic two-run home run broke the tie in the opener, said that the regional rivalry that has been trying to take root for the past decade seems to have bloomed, and Monday night's exciting showdown between two teams at or near the top of their divisions was a sign of things to come.

"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," he said. "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."

The fans of both teams would heartily agree. The enthusiastic back-and-forth between the red-clad Nationals fans and the orange-clad Orioles faithful Monday night was another indicator that the rivalry has reached a new level.

"You realize how big an area this was for the Orioles before our owner was kind enough to let them have a team here," Showalter said. "I understand that a lot of people that are here are people who used to come over to Baltimore. Now it's just a little shorter trip for them."

The Nationals fans who waited so long for the return of the major leagues to the District probably won't appreciate that characterization of the way they got their team, but no one can argue with the end result. If there was some question whether a real rivalry can develop with the Orioles and Nationals only playing each other a few times each year, the fans at Nationals Park on Monday night seemed intent on answering in the affirmative.

"I think a lot of it feeds off of what the fans think of it," Showalter said. "It's kind of like the Red Sox and Yankees ... a lot of that emotion you feel in the park when you play. You hear some of the banter back and forth in BP and you see the red and the orange. If you see the fans are getting into it ... I've said a lot of times to our players, whether it's playing in Norfolk or playing an exhibition game somewhere, if it's important to our fans, it's important to us.

"I think our guys feed off of that emotion in the ballpark, and I'm sure they do, too, And it was different last night. It was different."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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