The Battle of the Beltway has slowly become the most anticipated regular season series for Nationals fans.  And lately, each series has ended in disappointment as the Baltimore Orioles continue to dominate the Nationals in every conceivable fashion.

Washington Nationals' Trea Turner (7) steals second against Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop (6) during the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner (7) steals second against Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop (6) during the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Before the four-game (two games in each city) series began, the Nationals had recently won seven of their previous 11 ballgames so they were coming in pretty high and confident against their dangerous “Neighbors to the North.”

The Orioles have possibly the most potent offense in the sport. With five players with more than 20 home runs so far this season, including Major League leader Mark Trumbo with 39 (and another, Pedro Alvarez, close to 20 homers with 19), no ball club in the sport can say they are as dangerous offensively as the Orioles.  That reputation held up throughout the series as it was a one-sided offensive barrage, with Baltimore taking the first three games of the series in dominating fashion.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer follows through on his delivery to Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters, who struck out swinging on the pitch during the eighth inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 4-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer follows through on his delivery to Baltimore Orioles’ Matt Wieters, who struck out swinging on the pitch during the eighth inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 4-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

If the Nationals can take any solace in this series, it is that the Orioles happened to match up with two rookies and the fifth starter in the first three games before they were shut down by ace pitcher Max Scherzer in the fourth and final game.  A.J. Cole pitched the first game of the series for the Nationals and pitched well enough to win, but was undone by the long ball as Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop connected for homers in a 4-3 loss.

The Orioles did all their scoring against Cole in his season debut. Cole — Washington’s fourth-round selection in the 2010 draft — was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to replace scheduled starter Stephen Strasburg, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow soreness. Pitching in his fourth Major League game and making his second start, the 24-year-old Cole allowed five hits in seven innings. The right-hander struck out eight and walked two.

“He did more than save our bullpen — he threw a heck of a game,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “Great poise and great command against a very good offense.”

Rookie Reynaldo Lopez did not fare as well. Making his fifth Major League start, Lopez yielded six runs, four earned, and seven hits in less than three rocky innings while giving up homers to Chris Davis and Adam Jones in a 8-1 thrashing.  

Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (20) bats during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (20) bats during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Back home in D.C., the Nationals turned to Tanner Roark to end the modest, three-game losing slump as he was pitching very well in his own right. Roark was on a five-start unbeaten streak over which he was 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA. Unfortunately, he went on to struggle in Game Three of the series, giving up five runs in the first two innings, over which he threw a total of 62 pitches in a 10-8 defeat. The game was only close because of a courageous rally by Washington at the end of the night when Daniel Murphy hit his first career grand slam, and a double by Anthony Rendon was enough to plate Bryce Harper.  Ryan Zimmerman had a chance to be a hero with two on and one out but immediately hit into the game ending double play in a sequence that has seemed to encompass his late career trajectory of being the opposite of clutch.

In the series finale, Scherzer allowed two hits over eight innings and Harper’s two-run double helped the Nationals avoid a four-game home-and-home sweep with a 4-0 victory. Scherzer (14-7) struck out 10 and did not walk a batter. He retired 12 straight after Adam Jones’ fourth-inning double before Trumbo’s leadoff single in the eighth in another outstanding performance.

The Orioles now lead the all-time series with the Nationals (42-33) with a 25-14 record in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but only a 15-17 record in D.C.

With one month left before the end of the season, these Nationals need to show everyone that this team can truly compete against the better teams in baseball.  We have seen them dominate lesser opponents while not playing up to their potential. This cannot continue if they want to make any real noise in October.

 

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO