Nationals Orioles 

Which Beltway Series team will have the better season?

The 2016 MLB season is finally upon us and every team has a clean slate. The DMV area has two quality baseball teams in the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Since the Nationals came to D.C. in 2005 from Montreal (the former Expos), the Beltway Series was born between the Nat’s and O’s. Baltimore currently is leading the series 36-26.

Both of these teams will be vying for division titles and more importantly a World Series championship. The question that needs to be asked is which team will have the better 2016 season. You can make a case for either team as they both have a ton of talent.

The Nationals enter the season coming off one of the biggest collapses in recent memory. Washington seemed to have a firm grasp on the National League East and were seemingly on their way to winning the division. Unfortunately for the Nats, it didn’t end the way they, and many others, had envisioned. Instead, the Nationals watched as the New York Mets blazed a trail of fire in route to winning the division and later the National League pennant. Not only did Washington blow a six-game division lead, they also had in-house turmoil that reached a boiling point when closer Jonathan Papelbon choked the face of the franchise, Bryce Harper in the dugout after a dispute.

The Orioles will begin the 2016 campaign after finishing the 2015 with a record of 81-81, finishing third in the American League East. Baltimore missed the playoffs last season after winning the division in 2014. The O’s uncharacteristically spent some money this offseason in hopes of bringing back the division crown and another World Series championship back to the city of Baltimore.

A lot of the money the O’s spent this offseason was to keep first baseman Chris Davis to the tune of seven-years, $161 million. This was after Davis tested the free agent market. The other big signing was starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. The contract wasn’t anything big, but the Orioles typically don’t spend much money at all. Gallardo, who signed a two-year $22 million deal with a club option for 2018, comes over from the Texas Rangers, where he finished 2015 at 13-11, with a 3.42 ERA in 184.1 innings pitched. Gallardo joins a rotation that consists of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mike Wright and Kevin Gausman, who will start the season on the 15-day DL with a right shoulder injury. Baltimore also signed free agent Pedro Alvarez away from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alvarez provides a big pop in the middle of the lineup, where he will be the team’s designated hitter. He will be joined by center fielder Adam Jones, third baseman Manny Machado and Davis. Baltimore is hoping Machado and catcher Matt Wieters can remain healthy and put them in contention for the AL East crown and beyond.

Washington actually lost some key guys to free agency this offseason. They lost starting pitchers Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister along with center fielder Denard Span and shortstop Ian Desmond. The Nats were able to sign second baseman Daniel Murphy, the postseason hero for the divisional rival New York Mets a season ago. Washington also signed a trio of relievers in Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley and Yusmeiro Petit. The Nationals also made a trade acquiring outfielder Ben Revere from the Philadelphia Phillies and he will assume the duties of center field. One of the keys to this season is the health of left fielder Jayson Werth and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who can still be very productive if they can avoid the disabled list. If these two can stay healthy, it will provide more protection for the reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.  The second biggest concern for the Nats will be how their pitching staff, outside of Max Scherzer fares this season. Young phenom Stephen Strasburg will be pitching in a contract season, which could be his last in the Nation’s Capital.

The real key for both of these teams is the divisions they occupy. The Nats call the NL East home and it consists of the Mets, who were the NL representative in the World Series a season ago, the Miami Marlins, who could be hit or miss this season, the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, both of which will be competing for the first overall pick in next year’s draft. The O’s on the other hand, are located in the vaunted AL East, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the division last season, the Boston Red Sox who went out and acquired a big-time ace in David Price, the New York Yankees who you can never seem to count out of playoff contention and the Tampa Bay Rays, who are trying to get back to the postseason. How these teams fare in their own respective divisions could determine which team will have a better 2016 season.

With the moves each team made this offseason, I believe the Nationals will have the better season of the Beltway series teams, especially if Harper can duplicate his MVP numbers. I believe at the end of the day, the Washington starting rotation is slightly better than that of the Orioles.

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