As this desultory Orioles season ended, many of their fans turned their attention away from baseball and on to the Ravens. Others keep watching baseball in October.
Last week, one of our readers asked on Twitter which team I was rooting for in the postseason, and wanted to know if it was acceptable to root for the Nationals.
Oriole fans are predictably divided about the Nationals. Some think that since they’re in the National League and play the Orioles just a handful of times a year, it’s fine to root for them.
Others despise all sports things Washington and can’t stand the Nationals, some finding the MASN lawsuit enough reason to shudder at the thought of cheering for a team in D.C.
Many others simply ignore the Nationals, and don’t care whether they win or lose.
In the years before the Nationals arrived in 2005, attendance at Orioles games was far higher than it is now. The first seven of the 14 straight losing seasons the Orioles endured from 1998-2011 occurred when there wasn’t another team less than 40 miles south.
There can be no doubt that the Nationals have hurt the Orioles economically. In 2004, the season before the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington, the Orioles drew 2.74 million with a team that went 78-84.
In 2014 when the Orioles won the American League East, their attendance was 2.46 million, nearly 300,000 lower than 10 years before when the Baltimore-Washington area had just one team.
Baseball in Washington has been a huge success, economically and artistically.
The Nationals have drawn more than 2 million in each of their last eight seasons. They’ve had winning records in all those seasons, and qualified for the postseason in five seasons.
While it was nice to have huge crowds at Oriole Park early in this century, it’s great to have a team in Washington. The Orioles-Nationals games are fun, particularly when both teams were winning from 2012-16.
Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Ryan Zimmerman spiced up the games with spirited performances.
With Monday night’s win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals tied their National League Division Series at 2-2. The fifth game will be played at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, and if the Nats win they’ll advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time.
In 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017, they lost the Division Series each time.
Nationals Park is hardly one of my favorite places to watch a game. The ballpark doesn’t have much that’s distinctive, and I liked the President’s Race better when Teddy lost each time.
I always thought that the designers wanted to make sure they didn’t construct Camden Yards south, knowing that they couldn’t duplicate what Baltimore already had.
Because they went the other way, they came up with a perfectly functional stadium that’s not special.
Nationals fans and Orioles fans who enjoy postseason baseball must settle for watching a team with excellent players that’s just a game away from playing for the National League championship.
Former Orioles playing big parts in other NL series: The Nationals-Dodgers series doesn’t feature any prominent former Orioles. Those looking for old friends have only to watch the other NL Division Series, which is also tied at 2.
The Atlanta Braves feature longtime favorites Nick Markakis and Darren O’Day.
Markakis, whom the Orioles foolishly declined to re-sign in 2014, thinking he wouldn’t hold up for four more seasons, continues to play an excellent right field, and occasionally left, for the Braves.
O’Day, who was traded to Atlanta in the Kevin Gausman deal on July 31, 2018, didn’t pitch for the Braves until September 7 because of a forearm injury.
He showed manager Brian Snitker enough so that he was included on the postseason roster and hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances in the Division Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals have longtime Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who made his first appearance in the series in Monday’s fourth game as a pinch-hitter.
Wieters, who played for the Nationals in the previous two seasons, is Yadier Molina’s backup. Molina’s understudy plays about as often as Wieters’ backup did during his prime years.
The Cardinals also have Andrew Miller, who was dominating as an Orioles reliever after he was acquired at the July trading deadline in 2014.
Sadly, Miller has been reduced to an inconsistent middle reliever with St. Louis.
In Miller’s best days, he had WHIPs well under 1.000 from 2014-17 with the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Indians, but in the last two years, he’s had ERAs of 4.24 and 4.45.
Some Orioles fans rooted for the Minnesota Twins, whose season ended when the New York Yankees swept them in three straight games in the American League Division Series.
The Twins had Nelson Cruz, who had a terrific Orioles season in 2014, and whose personality and leadership abilities fit perfectly with that wonderful team.
In that season, Cruz mentored Jonathan Schoop, who was his teammate on the Twins this season. For the second straight postseason, Schoop was a nonfactor, not starting any of the three games for Minnesota.
For most Orioles fans, pulling for the Yankees is anathema, even if Zack Britton, who had the best season of any Orioles reliever in 2016, has a key role in their bullpen.
The Yankees face the winner of the series between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays. The Astros, who lost 10-3 to the Rays on Monday, will attempt to end the series today at Tropicana Field.
Pitchers Wade Miley (Houston), Oliver Drake and Chaz Roe (Tampa Bay) played bit roles on the Orioles.
For me, the best part of watching the series is the enlightened commentary of former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who could transition back to managing the Chicago Cubs or New York Mets over the next few weeks.