Broadway on the Beltway: Nationals host Yankees

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

NL East leaders face top team in AL East

This may be the weekend where the Nationals truly arrive as a franchise.

A perfect 6-0 road trip to Boston and Toronto has Washington alone in first place in the National League East by 4 1/2 games. Two of baseball's brightest young stars in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are garnering national attention with glowing articles pouring in from across the country -- everyone from esteemed baseball writer Peter Gammons (MLB.com) to Fox Sport's Ken Rosenthal to Bill Simmons' boutique website Grantland.com has weighed in on a team that was considered a laughingstock as recently as two years ago.

The Nats, with the second-best record in the major leagues at 38-23, are the toast of baseball and the hype will only increase this Father's Day weekend as they host a rare interleague series with the New York Yankees at Nationals Park before what are expected to be three massive crowds. For the first time since the inaugural season in 2005, when the club drew 2.73 million fans to RFK Stadium after moving from Montreal, there is a distinct buzz around baseball in the District.

Up Next
Nationals vs. Yankees
Gonzalez (8-2) vs. Hughes (6-5)
When » Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Where » Nationals Park
TV » MASN

The Yankees, meanwhile, are just a tick behind with the sport's third-best record at 37-25. They are alone in first place in the American League East, and New York has the second most-efficient offense with a .791 team OPS. Plus, it won't have to face Strasburg, Washington's ace who just pitched Wednesday against the Blue Jays.

But the Nats have plenty of other options in a dominating starting rotation. Gio Gonzalez (2.35 ERA) starts Friday night, followed by Jordan Zimmermann (2.91) on Saturday afternoon and Edwin Jackson (3.02) on Sunday afternoon. With 198 runs allowed, no team has given up fewer and it isn't close. The Los Angeles Dodgers, with the best overall record, are next at 224.

That trio is opposed by Phil Hughes (4.76), Andy Pettitte (2.81), lured out of retirement just last month, and Ivan Nova (4.64). Those are favorable pitching matchups for Washington, and the Yankees -- playing in the National League stadium -- will be without the designated hitter.

In the midst of a season-defining stretch -- 35 of 39 games against either the NL East or AL East -- the Nats are now 15-8 and have won six in a row and nine of their last 11 games. The franchise was last 15 games over .500 on July 16, 2005, and that was also the last time they had a division lead as large as 4 1/2 games.

Washington last hosted New York in 2006 when a below-.500 team shocked the Yankees by taking two-of-three games to win the series, including a memorable walk-off home run by star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to cap a 3-2 Fathers' Day win. He hit that ball off current teammate Chien-Ming Wang.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner