With both the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals off to great starts this season, the yearly matchup between the two area rivals isn't just a battle for bragging rights, but a big series for each club to keep pace in their respective divisions.
The Orioles and Nationals will play a home and home series, as is yearly tradition, with Baltimore also playing host to the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates and traveling to the Atlanta Braves' Turner Field and the New York Mets' Citi Field in this year's Interleague schedule.
The O's will kick things off Friday night, sending right-hander Jake Arrieta to the hill opposite Nats flamethrower Edwin Jackson, and manager Buck Showalter hopes his club can continue to hold their own, even as his pitchers deal with the rare chance to hold a bat.
"The bottom line is, if it's important to our fans, it's important to us," Showalter said of the growing rivalry with the Nats, across the Beltway. "Initially, we are just busy trying to prepare three starting pitchers to play offense.
"We all know, this type of thing, that it's obviously advantage to the National League team, they've got people [that] are going to be asked in our ballpark to do what they do all the time. But they are asking a lot of people [on our club] to do something they haven't done before, and I don't think it's particularly fair.
"But [InterLeague Play] is something that the fans like, so you do it."
And the area's fans will no doubt be buzzing about the weekend set, which features phenom Stephen Strasburg against Oriole newcomer Wei-Yin Chen, who is fresh off stonewalling the Yankees with seven strong innings Tuesday night.
Jason Hammel, who was with the Rockies last season, will start Saturday and should be able to hold his own at the plate. Arrieta went 1-for-4 with an RBI in five at-bats last year and Showalter said the emphasis the last few weeks with the pitchers has been on bunting.
"The biggest thing a starting pitcher can do for you is to be able to put the ball in play," Showalter said. "It opens up a lot of things if they can hit and run, slash bunt the ball. And, knock on wood, we did pretty well with it last year.
"I look at the three guys coming up for those starts, two of them should be able to handle themselves alright. The other guy, it's going to be a challenge. I'm not expecting anybody to center up Strasburg, OK?"
The Orioles will save that task for the rest of their lineup, a well-balanced batting order that should continue to rotate the DH spot when play shifts back to Baltimore.
Players to watch
Nick Markakis, RF (.355, 7 HR, 46 RBI): Markakis hit .463 in InterLeague play last year, scoring 11 runs in 18 games.
Matt Wieters, C (.222, 5 HR, 21 RBI): Wieters has brought his power to the NL, but with a lowly .287 OBP.
Jake Arrieta, RHP (2-3, 8.04 ERA): Arrieta has given up 11 runs over 8 innings in two starts against Washington.
Jim Johnson, RHP (4-0, .51 ERA): : Although he wasn't a closer at the time, NL bats have been no match for Johnson.
In the meantime, Nick Johnson and Wilson Betemit could see some more time in the field. Baltimore is 5-7 at Nationals Park, 10-12 at Turner Field and 3-5 at the Mets former home, Shea Stadium.
Last year: The Orioles went 7-11 in Interleague Play in 2011, with home series wins against the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals. They finished 4-5 at Camden Yards, and 3-6 at NL Parks.
All-time: The Orioles are 115-150 since Interleague play started in 1997.
@Nationals, May 22-24: Beltway rivals square off for the yearly matchup after going 3-3 last season.
vs. Phillies, June 8-10: Philadelphia and former manager Juan Samuel come to town.
vs. Pirates, June 12-14: The Orioles face the Bucs for the second consecutive year in Interleague play.
@ Atlanta, June 15-17: The Braves' Turner Field is on the docket for the second year, and the O's will look to avenge last year's series loss.
@ New York, June 18-20: The O's make their first-ever trip to Citi Field.
vs. Nationals, June 22-24: Interleague play ends with a second set against the Nats, with bragging rights for the DC/Baltimore area at stake.