BY DAVE RAGAZZO
One of the worst things any Mets fan could do would be to root for the New York Yankees. Playing second fiddle in the city to “The Evil Empire” is enough reason for any Mets fan to root for whoever is playing the Yankees on any given night.
This weekend, however, it should be a different story.
The Yankees are in the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Nationals in a weekend series that features the two first place teams in the eastern divisions. An unusual place for the Nationals, they are solidifying themselves as legitimate contenders and the Yankees know they are not the same team they used to be.
“They’ve got a legitimate team. It’s not a fluke,” said Yankees outfielder Raul Ibanez, who played for the Philadelphia Phillies for the last three years, reported the Daily News. “Anybody that has played them the past two years knew they had talent. Last year, during the second half, you could really see them start to believe.”
Part of the reason for the Nationals success this year has been because of the two young superstars they have drafted in recent years. Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper have performed like the number one picks that they were in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi got a glimpse of the teen phenom Harper in spring training and knows the kid is going to be a superstar for years to come.
“We had a chance to see him (Harper) in spring training and I was extremely impressed,” Joe Girardi said according to the Daily News. “If he was 23, 24 you’d say he’s a really good, young player. This kid’s 19 years old. It’s amazing what he’s doing at 19 years old. I was just taking finals right now.”
As the season approaches its midway point, it’s arguably the biggest series of the season for both teams. The Nationals, who are somewhat new to their winning ways, are expecting the arrival of the Yankees to draw sellout crowds during the three game series.
"Everybody will always support a winner," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson according to the Washington Times. "We've won a few games, but we haven't really accomplished anything yet. Fans love a winner. They can be a little distrusting early, but we have to show that we're capable of winning in the long haul.”
Winning a series against the Yanks would be one accomplishment that the 2012 Nationals could claim. The potent Yankees lineup “lucked out” by not drawing Stephen Strasburg in the series but they still have to face three strong arms over the three games.
Gio Gonzalez will start the first game against the Yankees’ Phil Hughes while Jordan Zimmerman (3-5, 2.91 ERA) and Edwin Jackson (3-3 3.02 ERA) will pitch the next two games for the Nationals, respectively.
If any team can counter the Nationals starting rotation, it is the Yankees who always have one of the best lineups in the league. The 2012 Yankees are no different as they lead the American League in homeruns (96) while ranking second in OBP and slugging percentage.
They are also fourth in the league in batting average as they are hitting .263 as a team.
So who has the advantage in the series? It’s tough to tell but one area where the Yankees have a clear advantage is the fact that they are used to winning and being in first place of a division. The Nationals are not. That can be the difference in this weekend series, and for once, Mets fans are actually hoping the Yankees can pull off a sweep.Editor's Update: The Yankees swept the series Sunday afternoon, with a 4-1 win. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano homered in the game. For the complete box score, click here.