Commentary

Time for precocious vs. pinstripes

Nats may have next, but Yanks have 27. Titles, that is. This weekend will be fun.

Updated: June 15, 2012, 3:13 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

The Washington Nationals have that 1980s Mets magic about them. Bryce Harper is Darryl Strawberry. Stephen Strasburg is Dwight Gooden. Davey Johnson is Davey Johnson, just a little older.

They are the exciting up-and-coming team that owns an electricity that comes with being the next big thing. They are red hot, having won six straight to move just percentage points behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for baseball's best record.

And here come the old champions, with their "been there, done that" attitude. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter grew up in the big leagues before the Internet really did. So the scrutiny they dealt with as young players was different, a little less YouTube, a little more tabloid. Still, they have had enough spotlight to illuminate a stadium and understand Harper's plight.

[+] EnlargeBryce Harper
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesNationals phenom Bryce Harper actually roots for the Yankees ... but not this weekend.

The New York Yankees show up in D.C. on Friday, matching the Nationals' hotness win for win. Just like the Nats have crushed the AL East, smacking around the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees have dismantled the NL East, taking out the Mets and the Atlanta Braves over the past week.

So something has to give.

The one shame -- well, New York manager Joe Girardi won't agree -- is that the Yankees will miss Stratsburg. On Wednesday, Stratsburg improved to 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his first 13 games and won't pitch this weekend.

Back in '84, Gooden was 6-3 with a 2.61 ERA as a rookie 13 games in. In 1985, Gooden sprinted to 9-3 with a 1.67 ERA after a baker's dozen.

The Yankees will see Harper, who may be the most hyped player ever. If Strawberry had grown up in this era, he might still hold that title. Harper, 19, is hitting .303 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 41 games. Strawberry, in his rookie year of 1983, hit just .196 with five homers and 20 RBIs in his first 41.

Harper, who bats lefty, has hit for a higher average against left-handers as opposed to righties. In Harper's first 46-at-bats against lefties, he is hitting .391 with two homers and nine RBIs. Against righties, Harper is a .266 batter with five homers and 12 RBIs in 155 at-bats.

The Yankees start right-hander Phil Hughes on Friday, southpaw Andy Pettitte on Saturday and righty Ivan Nova on Sunday.

Despite Harper's emergence, the Nats are winning with pitching. Strasburg may be the main attraction, but he has competition for the best pitcher in D.C. Gio Gonzalez is the young lefty from Oakland that Yankees GM Brian Cashman looked into acquiring during the Winter Meetings. Cashman found the asking price of Jesus Montero, top outfield prospect Mason Williams and Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances too hefty.

Now, Gonzalez, 26, is 8-2 with a 2.35 ERA. His ERA is the eighth in baseball and the best on his team. He opposes Hughes Friday night.

On Saturday afternoon, Pettitte will go up against Jordan Zimmermann, whose 2.91 ERA would look exceptional about anywhere except in Washington. He is just 3-5. On Sunday, Nova faces Edwin Jackson, a guy the Yankees considered as a free agent this offseason. Jackson is 3-3 with a 3.02 ERA.

But with Strasburg sitting this one out, the main attraction will be Harper, who incidentally grew up a Yankees fan and got in a little hot water with National fans the other day on Twitter because he said he still roots for the Yankees.

He won't be this weekend. Instead, the young, upstart team, which is growing up into a locomotive, hosts the veteran stars. The Yankees all have been in these moments before, a matchup between baseball's best teams.

After this weekend, we'll find out a little more about Davey's young hot shots and Girardi's old men. Then we might start thinking about how these two teams could be playing each other later -- much later -- in the year.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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