Let me ask all of you a serious question.
When all of you saw the Yankees 2012 season schedule for the first time, looked at all of the inter-league series, who honestly thought the Washington Nationals series was going to be one to circle with importance?
I didn't back in April. But in June, it's a big series.
But the Nationals are also in first place. Make no mistake about them, the Washington Nationals, the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos, a.k.a. the punching bag of the National League East, are for real.
They are also five games ahead of the Braves and Mets in the N.L. East and are looking like a serious contender for October.
Let's take a look at this upcoming series between the first-place team in the A.L. East and the first-place team in the N.L. East.
Game 1: 7:05 p.m., Nationals Ballpark
Phil Hughes (6-5, 4.76) vs Gio Gonzalez (8-2, 2.35)
Remember when Yankee fans during the winter wanted to trade for Gio Gonzalez, but the Nationals and Mike Rizzo beat them to it and made the deal with Oakland?
So far, that trade is working out wonders for Washington, as Gonzalez has been sensational early on, and could very well be a National League All-Star come July.
Gonzalez has won the last six out of seven starts for the Nationals, getting a lot of strikeouts in those games.
Career wise against the Yankees, he's just 1-4 with a 7.27 ERA, however all those stats came when he was with the Oakland A's.
Hughes on the other hand, hasn't lost a start since May 17th, and has gotten his record over the .500 mark and his ERA below 5.00.
Hughes has never made a start against the Nationals and it'll be interesting to see how he handles their young lineup.
Prediction: Nationals 4, Yankees 3
Game 2: 1:05 p.m., Nationals Ballpark
Andy Pettitte (3-2, 2.81) vs Jordan Zimmerman (3-5, 2.91)
Saturday will be the first time Andy Pettitte will be pitching as a 40-year-old, as his birthday falls on the eve of this game.
Pettitte has been brilliant in in his first five starts for the Bombers, showcasing an impressive ERA and racking up a lot of strikeouts.
In his previous start, he got a no-decision against the Mets and had to leave the game after the sixth inning when he caught a line drive with his bare hand.
Pettitte still finished the inning, but the Yankees took him out as a precautionary move because he's so important to their season.
Against the Nationals, Pettitte is 3-1 with a 4.29 ERA, some of those numbers coming during his time with the Houston Astros.
Opposing Pettitte is 26-year-old Jordan Zimmerman, who has never faced the Yankees in his career.
Zimmerman has had injury issues in the past, which is why he's never made more than 26 starts in a season, but he's been healthy so far in 2012.
The one thing the Yankees can do to frustrate pitchers is to adopt a patient approach at the plate and work up the count.
In this game, I can see the experienced Yankees lineup doing that to Zimmerman.
Prediction: Yankees 7, Nationals 2
Game 3: 1:35 p.m., Nationals Ballpark
Ivan Nova (8-2, 4.64) vs Edwin Jackson (3-3, 3.02)
Remember when Yankee fans wanted Edwin Jackson this winter, too?
He ended up signing as a free agent with the Nationals and has been pitching fairly well for them in 2012.
Jackson has won his last two starts for Washington against the Mets and the Blue Jays.
Against the Yankees for his career though, he's a career 2-6 with a 5.35 ERA in 12 starts.
On the other side, Ivan Nova has been pitching much better as of late.
What was alarming about Nova early on was his ERA, which was in the mid-5.00 range from the end of April until June, but in his last start, he got that down into the mid-4.00 range.
Against the Braves, Nova pitched seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out six to get his eighth win of the season.
Nova has won four straight starts for the Bombers and looks like he's getting stronger as the season progresses.
I think the Yankees will chase Jackson out early and Nova will pick up his ninth win of the season with another solid start.
Prediction: Yankees 8, Nationals 3
Here's the kind of lineup we can expect to see from the Nationals this weekend against the Yankees.
1: LF- Stephen Lombardozzi: .275, 1 HR, 8 RBI
2: CF- Bryce Harper: .303, 7 HR, 19 RBI
3: 3B- Ryan Zimmerman: .239, 3HR, 22 RBI
4: RF- Mike Morse: .205, 0 HR, 3 RBI
5: 1B- Adam LaRoche: .261, 11 HR, 22 RBI
6: SS- Ian Desmond: .266, 9 HR, 32 RBI
7: 2B- Danny Espinosa: .235, 6 HR, 18 RBI
8: C- Jesus Flores: .234, 2 HR, 9 RBI
9: Pitcher's spot
Other notable hitters:
OF- Xavier Nady: .147, 3 HR, 5 RBI
OF- Rick Ankiel: .225, 4 HR, 13 RBI
1B- Tyler Moore: .290, 2 HR, 5 RBI
The major attention of this series will be on 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, who was the No. 1 draft pick of the 2010 MLB Draft.
Harper was called up on April 28th and has been a very productive hitter for Washington thus far. All eyes will be on No. 34 this weekend.
It's usually a three-year gap of when these two teams face off.
The last time the Yankees and Nationals played a series was during the 2009 season at Yankee Stadium.
In the first game on June 16th, 2009, the Yankees won 5-3. CC Sabathia was the winner while former Yankee Ron Villone took the loss.
In the second game on June 17th, 2009, the Nationals won 3-2. John Lannan got the win while Chien-Ming Wang, who is now on the Nationals, took the loss.
In the third and final game on June 18,th 2009, the Nationals won 3-0 and took the series. Craig Stammen got the win while Joba Chamberlain took the loss.
Before then, the other series the Yankees and Nationals have played was back in the 2006 season at the old RFK Stadium.
In the first game on June 16, 2006, the Yankees won 7-5. Mariano Rivera got the win while Chad Cordero took the loss.
In the second game on June 17, 2006, the Nationals won 11-9. Jon Rauch got the win while Mariano Rivera took the loss.
In the third and final game on June 18, 2006, the Nationals won 3-2. Gary Majewski got the win while Chien-Ming Wang took the loss.
The Nationals have won each of the last two series, 2-1.
After the Yankees play the Nationals this weekend, they will have two more series to play in interleague.
First, the Yankees will travel home to the Bronx to take on the Atlanta Braves again, a team they just swept down at Atlanta.
This series will be at Yankee Stadium from June 18-20.
Then, the Yankees will travel all of six miles to play a rematch of the Subway Series with the New York Mets. The Yankees swept the series with the Mets last weekend at Yankee Stadium.
This series will be at Citi Field from June 22-24.
This weekend should be a great series featuring two first-place teams that are red-hot right now. Will the Nationals win their third straight series over the Yankees, or will the Bombers triumph on the road again?
Stay tuned, Yankees Universe.