BALTIMORE—On Tuesday, the Orioles play the first of two games at Nationals Park. It’s the conclusion of the annual home-and-home series with the Nationals, or, as some call it, “The Battle of the Beltways.”
On July 16 and 17, the Orioles and Nationals split a two-game series at Oriole Park. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Orioles will face two of the Nationals’ toughest pitchers, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer. The Orioles will start Aaron Brooks and Asher Wojciechowski.
Two of every three years, the Orioles play four games with the Nationals. In the season when the AL East faces the NL East, the teams play two three-game series.
Each team in the majors has a team in the other league they play every year. Some of the pairings are easy and popular with fans: Yankees/Mets, Cubs/White Sox, Giants/Athletics and Dodgers/Angels.
It’s the same with the Orioles and Nationals. Although it’s clear that the teams play in separate cities with distinct differences, there are fans who root for both teams because they only play these handful of games against each other and they want to have a rooting interest in both leagues.
“I’ve only been in the two games involved here,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That’s why I don’t know what it’s going to be like in Washington.”
Hyde was a Cubs coach for the past five seasons and experienced a fervent intracity competition.
“You’re either a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan,” Hyde said. “Those games are packed and loud and really a lot of fun to be involved in because in the city, everybody’s watching those games. There’s a lot of energy in the stadium.”
From 1997, when interleague play began, until 2005, the Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies met each season. In 2006, the year after the Nationals moved to RFK Stadium, the Orioles and Nationals began their annual series. The Orioles lead, 40-32.
With Adam Jones and Manny Machado on the Orioles and Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman on the Nationals, the games were often fun and full of memorable performances. With Harper, Jones and Machado gone and Zimmerman nearing the end of his wonderful career, it’s just not the same.
Neither team had a winning record from 2005-11 and both played in the postseason in 2012, 2014 and 2016. In 2017, the teams’ fortunes diverged. The Orioles began losing and the Nationals kept winning and captured the NL East. This season, the Nationals are the NL wild-card leaders.
“We’re going to see a team that’s super hot and playing incredibly well and scoring a ton of runs,” Hyde said. “I thought we played them well when we were here and we split, and I’m hoping we can go there and play a couple of good ballgames against a couple of premier pitchers.
“… As we get better, I think the rivalry will mean more.”
The Orioles retain many fans in Washington, particularly in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, people who grew up rooting for them in the years when there wasn’t a team in Washington.
Orioles-Nationals games often draw well in Washington, and there’s usually a significant presence of Orioles fans. This season’s two games here had crowds of 23,362 and 20,786, far above the average weeknight attendance at Oriole Park.
“It’s another game,” Orioles catcher Pedro Severino said of playing the Nationals. “It’s nothing different.”
Severino is the only player on the Orioles who’s played on both teams. He was obtained from the Nationals on waivers near the end of spring training. Washington outfielder Gerardo Parra has also played for the Orioles.
Trey Mancini has relatives in Bowie and growing up would often spend time in the summer with them. He likes playing the Nationals each season.
“I think it’s a real cool series that we do every year,” Mancini said. “I think it’s neat that we play the other local team every year, but it’s not anything you go into with more adrenaline or pumped than you normally would be. I think everybody here treats it like any other game.
“It’s cool for me personally just because I still have some family around there so they can see me play at Nats Park.”
Although the Orioles don’t feel any particular rancor towards the Nationals, that doesn’t carry over to the ownerships. The teams have had a nasty legal dispute over MASN television rights for years, and last week a federal judge affirmed an earlier ruling that the Orioles owe the Nationals $296.8 million in television rights fees from 2012-16.
In the 15 years since the Nationals moved to Washington from Montreal, the teams have yet to trade with each other even as the Orioles have dealt with AL East rivals Boston and New York.
The games continue to be shown on the two MASN channels, and for several years there was a combined telecast using both team’s announcers. That proved unpopular with fans, and now the Orioles and Nationals broadcasts of the “Battle of the Beltway” series are separate.
Most Orioles fans would say their biggest competition is with the Yankees and Red Sox. Nationals fans might say the team they most like to beat is Philadelphia.
“As far as any sort of rivalry would be concerned, I don’t particularly see it that way,” Mancini said.