Nats and Orioles Out to Prove Recent Playoff Success Wasn't a Fluke

Greg StarddardContributor IIIMarch 16, 2013

It was a special time last season when the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles found themselves in the playoffs, and baseball had once again become relevant in the D.C. area.

It was indeed an exciting time watching Stephen Strasburg and Adam Jones dominate and give fans a lot to cheer about.

It wasn't that long ago when the Nats were an expansion team from Montreal and Washington was just happy to have a professional baseball team again. But love him or hate him, general manager Mike Rizzo has built a championship-caliber team and the expectations for 2013 are extremely high.

The O's, on the other hand, were mired in last place for many, many years and all of sudden they're one of the best teams in baseball again.

Most of the transformation began with the strategy of manager Buck Showalter. He brought his no-nonsense approach to Charm City and it worked.

If you live inside or outside the Beltways in D.C. and Baltimore, the upcoming baseball season is gonna be fun. Fans now have two teams to watch. Nationals Stadium in southeast Washington D.C. is one of the nicest parks in the country. It has great views, outstanding food and a great team. D.C baseball is back.

What a luxury for fans of America's favorite pastime to be able to jump on Interstate 95 and visit each park within a hour, depending on where you live in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Fans have a choice. And you know what, it doesn't matter if you live in D.C. or Baltimore, you can cheer for both teams because both teams are worth cheering for these days.

Bryce Harper is one of the best players in the game and he's just getting started. He's confident, rough, handsome and has a little bit of edge on him off and on the field. Opposing pitchers will tell you the kid is a tough out. He reminds me of a young Pete Rose in stature and his aggressive approach to the game.

Harper is the leader of the Nats. Strasburg is probably their best player, but to be honest with you that's irrelevant given the recent success of the club. The 2012 season didn't end the way the Nats wanted it to, but it was clear they are a serious contender. They have championship potential and finished last season at 98-64.

Rizzo, on the other hand, rolled the dice last year. He sat Strasburg after 159.1 innings and the Nats best pitcher didn't take the mound during the postseason. I'm not gonna debate Rizzo's decision making again in this space, but at least he has the franchise headed in the right direction.

For the first few years, all of us in D.C. were wondering if the Nats new franchise was simply here to fill space.

But nothing could've been further from the truth. The truth is, there were growing pains with the team. They had a rocky beginning, but a foundation was being set. Former Philadelphia Phillie Jason Werth was brought in and the team quietly began remaking the roster.

If Werth fully recovers from injuries, he provides another tough out in the Nats lineup. In all honesty, The health of Werth could be the key to the team getting over the hump.

We all know what Strasburg can do if he pitches in the playoffs, and with bats like Harper and Werth, not many teams in baseball are better. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ian Desmond are among the best players in the game.

Hopefully the significance of manager Davey Johnson doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

He brings it every single day just like he did as a player. He's intense, intelligent, experienced and has won at just about every level. He's the captain of the ship and I'm not sure many people in baseball can keep the Nats going like he has. The Nats need to find a way to keep him in the dugout for a few more years.

Showalter is pretty much the same way. The preparation and intensity of this man is unquestioned. He has a scowl on his face in the dugout when the Orioles are leading by 10 runs!

The man is serious and he's a major reason why owner Peter Angelos is once again a happy man in Charm City. Hiring Buck was the best decision Angelos has made in the past 10 years with this team. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

Quite simply, the O's have come back from the dead. Much like the Nats, they had been accustomed to losing 90-100 games a season.

Oriole Park had plenty of empty seats during that time and who could blame the fans for staying away? My, how times have changed. They were 93-69 last season.

The O's fast-paced, exciting style is fun to watch. Jones is one of the most productive players around. Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy are rolling.

Interstate 695 is jammed again with traffic trying to get into Camden Yards. It reminds me of the mid-to-late '90s when Cal Ripken and the boys were battling for playoff spots and postseason victories. Good times have returned to Oriole Park.

All of a sudden Boog's barbecue and Maryland Crab cakes are tasting a lot better now. In fact, the lines in front of the eateries at the park are getting longer. I can smell the foot-long dogs now.

It's the sweet success of winning and excellent regional cuisine. If the O's are kept together, Baltimore will become a formidable presence in baseball for the immediate future. That's good news whether you live on Capitol Hill or Federal Hill.

Both franchises also owe a lot to the fans of the D.C. and Baltimore areas. Through tough times and losing records, people in these communities stood by the Nats and O's. And trust me, they were tough times.

But a lot of people kept buying tickets and going to the games. I was one of them. We weren't happy with the team's performance back then, but perhaps patience is the lesson of the day.

These are exciting times for baseball fans in Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Both cities now have playoff teams and a bright future. Nothing does more for two neighbors, and perhaps the game itself, than two teams less than 40 miles apart vying for a spot in the World Series. And it doesn't matter who gets there first, because the entire region will be a winner.


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