For the past several weeks, the sports world has been occupied with the National Football League both on and off the field. For those of us living in Washington, D.C., however, football season has offered few reasons to smile. Washington is 1-3, having suffered a humiliating defeat to the New York Giants and an even worse public relations battering through parodies aimed at changing the team’s racially insensitive moniker.

Unfortunately, all of this negativity has caused D.C.’s most successful team, the Washington Nationals, to fade from the spotlight. Across the Beltway in Baltimore, the Orioles are likewise enjoying their best season in over a decade, and both teams find themselves playoff bound. Their respective chances in the postseason warrant further coverage.

This is the second time in three years the Nationals have won the National League East and made the playoffs. The Nationals are the third-highest scoring team in the National League at 4.25 runs per game. Advanced statistics help make the case that the Nationals have another vital offensive weapon: base running. Fangraphs.com’s advanced calculations estimate that the Nationals’ quality base running has been worth about five additional runs over the second-best team in the majors this season. Washington’s top-five on-base percentage means that its hitters get on base frequently and make opportunities count by not getting out on the basepaths.

While Washington possesses a capable offense, its biggest asset all season has been an elite pitching staff. After Jordan Zimmermann notched the franchise’s first-ever no-hitter Sunday against the Miami Marlins, Washington’s pitchers extended their league-best total WAR, or wins above replacement, to 22.8. This means that they have been worth an additional 22 wins compared to that of an average rotation. The Nationals also have the lowest team ERA in the National League at 3.04 runs per game.

Their closest potential playoff opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have a team ERA of 3.39, in large part due to the efforts of ace Clayton Kershaw. The Nationals have the better rotation and a quality bullpen that has seen them allow the fewest runs per game in the National League.

Turning to Baltimore, there are a number of reasons why the Orioles should be prime contenders in the American League. Like some of their AL counterparts, the Orioles play fantastic defense, and estimates show that their defense has been 59 runs better than an average defense over the course of the season. The O’s are also second best team in fielding percentage.

Like Washington, Baltimore also has an amazing bullpen and Baseballreference.com ranks it first in the American League. Fangraphs calculates the WAR of Baltimore’s bullpen at an impressive 4.5 wins, so its 19 blown saves this season are not truly indicative of their bullpen talent.

Baltimore will host the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series on Thursday and the Nationals will host the winner of the San Francisco-Pittsburgh wild card game with home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. Washington’s postseason prospects look much brighter for two reasons.

First, avoiding the Dodgers in the first round means that the Nationals’ high-powered offense will not have to run into Kershaw. The Nationals have a 5-3 record this season against the Giants and a 4-3 record against Pittsburgh, so, regardless of whom they play, Washington has had success against its opponent in a limited amount of games.

Unfortunately for Baltimore, saying it has lacked success against Detroit this season is an understatement. The O’s are 1-5 against the Tigers this season and have averaged just three runs per game in those contests. The Tigers’ pitching staff could pose problems for an O’s team with the fourth-highest strikeout rate in MLB.

Although the Orioles sport a fantastic bullpen, getting to the late innings with a lead could prove difficult against a Tigers’ starting staff that is ranked as the third-best in baseball by Fangraphs and that is far superior to Baltimore’s. In addition, perennial all-stars Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler will all pose offensive threats for the Tigers.

While there is a great deal to be excited about this fall across the Beltway, I feel that the region’s best hopes for a championship are right here in D.C. The Nationals will be able to enjoy the perks of a number one seed and should advance into the NL Championship Series at least. While there are obvious reasons to be bullish on Baltimore, the likelihood that it will be upset by Detroit in the first round is far greater than Washington losing to San Francisco or Pittsburgh.

Either way, an exciting October awaits the Beltway’s baseball fans.

Michael Ippolito is a sophomore in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Tuesday.

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