Thursday, June 14, 2012

First place Yankees take on suprising first place Nationals

When the season schedules were released earlier in the offseason, who would have ever thought that June 15-17 could be a series to prove a team's legitimacy? 

The schedule showed a three-game series between the Yankees and Nationals.  The Nationals, who are perennial basement dwellers in a division that is normally dominated by the Philadelphia Phillies are shocking the baseball world with their play this season.
That's right ladies and gentleman, the Nationals are on top of your National League East, with a 9.5 game lead over the Phillies.  With a 38-23 record, the Nats have the second best record in all of baseball, just behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This also includes the Yankees.  The Yankees sit atop the American League East with 37-25 record after winning nine of their last ten games. 

As I said before, who would have thought both teams would be in first place this late in June.  Let's be honest, many thought the Yankees would be sticking around.  With the Nationals, many including me, believed the team was at least one year away from having winning baseball in the District of Columbia. 

So how are both teams in first place after dealing with devastating injuries? The Nationals have relied on one of their greatest assets: youth, while the Yankees are relying on experience.

Two polar opposite characteristics.  This is just one of the many reasons why this series is going to be so much fun to watch.

The Nationals are relying on young phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg to come up big in almost every game they've played in.  Both have come as advertised.

Harper started the season in Triple-A before being called up in late April.  So far, Harper is hitting .303 with seven home runs and has driven in 19 runs.  He's one of the leading candidates for NL rookie of the year.  Oh, and did I mention that he's only 19? He's also provided us with some entertaining sound bites, which never hurts.

Strasburg has been tremendous in his first full season since returning from Tommy John surgery.  He is 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA and was the first pitcher in the majors to reach 100 strikeouts. He's well on his way to making the All Star Game next month in Kansas City.

The concern with Strasburg, however, is that the Nationals have placed an innings limit on him since he was out most of last season.  It is believed that he will be limited to around 160 innings.  He has pitched 68 already.  Will the Nationals remove the innings limit, and possibly sacrifice his future, for a run deep in to the playoffs? Only time shall see. 

The Nationals' combined team age is 29.1.  Let's compare that to the Yankees, who's average team age is 32.9. 

Except, they look much older.  Earlier in the season, I thought the team was done when Mariano Rivera tore his ACL.  While it did take a time for the Yankees to start winning consistently, I am pleasantly surprised with how they are winning these days. 

Unlike the Nationals, the Yankees do not rely on small ball to score runs.  In fact they are hitting home runs to drive in runs.  As a team, the Yankees have hit 96 home runs, which ranks first in the American League.  (The Nationals have hit 62 for those wondering.) 

What has perhaps been one of the most successful, and most surprising stories this season in the Bronx is Andy Pettitte.  Pettitte announced he was returning to the land of pinstripes in mid-March.  Pettitte actually looks like he has stepped back in time going 3-2 in six starts with a 2.81 ERA and perhaps what's most shocking, 40 strike outs in 41.2 innings.  Pettitte is 16 years older than Strasburg and pitching, dare I say it, just as well as him.

Pettitte is scheduled to start Saturday against Jordan Zimmermann.  Zimmermann is 26, for those who were wondering. 

Both teams are sitting on top of their respective divisions.  They have helped each other out by sweeping two division rivals, the Nats sweeping the Red Sox and Blue Jays while the Yankees swept the Mets and Braves.

We all know only one team can come out on top.

Will youth or experience prevail?

**Pictures from
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