After dropping a three-game series to the Reds, the Nationals make a short four-game road trip to Pittsburgh to face a struggling team. The Nationals sit at 24-22 despite all their injuries, and 1 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East standings. The Pirates, on the other hand, are 19-26.
The Pirates have struggled so much that they sit only 2 1/2 games above the Chicago Cubs, one of the worst teams in baseball, in their division. The Pirates, overall, have been a disappointment so far this season, perhaps a hangover from last year’s magical playoff-drought-snapping run. The Nationals should take advantage of their opportunity against the Pirates and, despite their flaws, at least be able to take the series.
The Pirates were averaging 3.96 runs per game, the 12th lowest mark in baseball. Collectively, the Pirates are hitting .249 and have a .703 OPS, 18th best in the majors and a few ticks higher than the Nationals (.699 OPS).
The Pirates are 16-25 against right-handed starters this season, and the Nationals will send all right-handers to the mound against them. Rookie Blake Treinen, who will be called up to take Gio Gonzalez’s spot in the rotation, is slated to start on Thursday. He will be followed by Jordan Zimmermann on Friday, Stephen Strasburg on Saturday and Doug Fister on Sunday. Saturday’s matchup, Strasburg against Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, is the first NL meeting between two players chosen No. 1 overall in the MLB draft since Kris Benson and Paul Wilson faced off on March 16, 2005.
While the Pirates’ offense is struggling as a whole, a few hitters stand out. One in particular, defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, will pose a challenge to Nationals pitchers. McCutchen, a center fielder, is hitting .308/.431/.472 with four home runs and 20 RBI. In his career, McCutchen has a .395/.458/.825 slash line and a 1.283 OPS with 13 home runs in 30 games against the Nationals.
Second baseman Neil Walker leads the with nine home runs. Pedro Alvarez, still an all-or-nothing hitter, has eight home runs and 40 strikeouts while hitting .210. Ike Davis, acquired in a trade with the New York Mets, has been surprisingly productive with an .816 OPS.
The Pirates have are in their current position because of injuries and the lackluster performances from their pitching staff. Their collective 4.00 ERA is 18th in the majors. The starting rotation without A.J. Burnett, who left for Philadelphia, has posted a 4.60 ERA, the fifth worst mark in baseball. The Nationals are due to face Edinson Volquez, Charlie Morton, Cole and Francisco Liriano, in that order. Cole (4-3, 3.84 ERA) and Morton (0-6, 3.45 ERA) have been fine but Volquez (1-4, 4.71 ERA) and Liriano (0-4, 4.86 ERA) have struggled.
Facing the Pirates, the Nationals have a fruitful opportunity to nab a series from a struggling team this weekend.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Harrisburg 9, Trenton 0: Paolo Espino allowed only one hit and walked one over six innings. Neil Holland added two scoreless innings. Jason Martinson hit two home runs. Michael A. Taylor, who is hitting .293, added his 11th home run and went 3 for 5. Cutter Dykstra drove in two and Matt Skole had two hits.
Potomac 3, Lynchburg 2: Sammy Solis allowed one run on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking one. Robert Benincasa allowed one run over 1 2/3 innings. Oscar Tejeda went 2 for 3 and drove in a run. Khayyan Norfork drove in two.
Lynchburg 3, Potomac 2: Ian Dickson allowed three runs on five hits over six innings. Wil Piwnica-Worms went 2 for 3 with an RBI. Cole Leonida drove in the other run.