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Battle of the Beltways Excites Baseball Fans in D.C. Beyond

Anthony Amobi | , Special to Informer | 5/27/2012, 8:52 p.m.

Baseball fans in the Mid-Atlantic region who either root for the hometown Washington Nationals or the Baltimore Orioles - 40 or so miles up the road on route 295 - have not had a lot to cheer about in general.

The Nationals and the Orioles have been perennial losers in their respective leagues and have been an afterthought in the local sports scene. Whenever the two teams have met in inter league play during the regular baseball season during the "Battle of the Beltways" series over the past seven years, it has been a non-event.

Although both franchises have tried to drum up a rivalry through the media and their respective fan bases, so far it has been a friendly one.

However, this year, the feeling may be different. The Nationals and Orioles for the first time since the two franchises started playing one another are now winning ball clubs and contenders in their respective leagues.

Over the past weekend, fans of both franchises packed Nationals Park in Southeast Washington, D.C., for the first of two series and for three consecutive nights - Fri., May 18th, Sat., May 19th, and Sun., May 20th - the stadium was filled. The "Battle of the Beltways" series drew near 120,000 fans and the baseball world took notice.

The Nationals lost the first two games of the three-game set by a one-run margin; however, they won Sunday as pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the bats came alive at plate, defeating the Orioles, 9-3.

Both franchises have been a complete surprise to the sport; however, none more so than the Baltimore Orioles.

They have suffered through fourteen losing seasons, and have seen their attendance at their home ballpark - Oriole Park at Camden Yards - dwindle from three million-plus per year until the early part of the century to under 1.9 million last year.

This season, under the tutelage of veteran manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles have played much better than the experts ever predicted. They have succeeded thanks to a solid offense at the plate, the emergence of young players like Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis, plus a strong pitching rotation and excellent bullpen.

The Orioles have led their division - the American League East - for much of the season and they have the powerhouses of the division, the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox looking up at them.

On the other hand, the Nationals were expected to improve on their record of 80-81 from the 2011 season; however, perhaps not to the level they have played to so far.

They have been one of the best teams in the National League so far, despite a number of injuries to key players such as outfielders Michael Morse and Jayson Werth; in addition to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and talented young closer Drew Storen.

However, they are flying high so far thanks to their talented starting pitching rotation which features Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. Washington general manager spent the offseason trying to rebuild the team via trades, plus free agency and so far his moves are paying off. Plus, the Nationals have had their profile even raised more thanks to the impressive play of nineteen-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper.