PREVIEW: Pittsburgh Pirates return home to face Nationals


The Pittsburgh Pirates (54-40), losers of five of six since the all-star break, return home to PNC Park. It is there that they will face the Washington Nationals (51-42) for a pivotal four-game slate.

Despite a considerable amount of momentum going into the all-star break, the Pirates have fizzled out of the gate, losing consecutive series to the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals. The effect of injuries to Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison have greatly affected the Pirates’ offense, which has combined for just 19 runs in the six games post-break, and that includes a 10-run outburst against the Royals.

The Washington Nationals come in lukewarm, going 5-5 in their last 10 games, including a record of 3-3 since the break. If the Pirates are looking for sympathy for their hobbled roster, they won’t find any from the Nats. Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Jayson Werth are all regular everyday players who will not appear in this series, due to a mix of long and short term injuries. Over in the Nat’s pitching staff, Stephen Strasburg continues to work his way back from injury and is not expected to return until mid-August at the earliest.

Upcoming pitching matchups:

Thursday, 7/23, 7:05 PM RHP Doug Fister (3.-5, 4.30 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.98 ERA)

Friday, 7/24, 7:05 PM RHP Max Scherzer (10-8, 2.09 ERA) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01 ERA)

Saturday, 7/25, 7:05 PM LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.93 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (8-3, 2.44 ERA)

Sunday, 7/26, 1:35 PM RHP Joe Ross (2-2, 2.70 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.31 ERA)

Pitching matchup analysis 

On paper, the Pittsburgh Pirates definitely have an edge in the pitching matchups. They will trot out two left-handers. Normally that advantage carries weight, but not against the Nationals. Consider these two facts. First, the Nationals’ split vs LHP and RHP is the closest I have seen in awhile. Both their walk-rate and strikeout-rate are nearly the same (LHP – 9.2% BB/23.8% K; RHP – 9.1% BB/23.5%) while their LHP-facing AVG is only .003 below their figure against righties (.250/LHP vs .253/RHP).

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The other fact is that one of the Pirates left-handers goes up against Scherzer. No need to expoud there.

While the Scherzer-factor can’t be ignored, the Pirates have a great upper hand in the other three matchups, although Ross pitched very well against the Pirates the last time he faced them. Doug Fister – a fringe Cy Young Candidate in 2014, is a shell of last year’s version. The Bucs will need to put their LHP-facing woes behind them to minimize Gonzalez’s effectiveness. It will be a tall order, as current Pirates hitters are hitting a collective .152 against Gio.

Pittsburgh Pirates hitters vs. Nationals pitchers


Neil Walker12114000102.364.417.364.780
Pedro Florimon980000014.
Andrew McCutchen984000012.500.556.5001.056
Pedro Alvarez874000012.571.625.5711.196
Starling Marte880000002.
Chris Stewart774100001.571.571.7141.286
Travis Ishikawa650000012.
Francisco Cervelli551000001.
Gregory Polanco440000002.
Sean Rodriguez440000003.
Brent Morel3331001001.0001.0001.3332.333


Andrew McCutchen18174101319.235.278.471.748
Brent Morel15141001108.
Pedro Alvarez11100000015.
Francisco Cervelli10101000002.
Pedro Florimon10103100003.300.300.400.700
Neil Walker861001213.167.250.667.917
Gregory Polanco770000004.
Starling Marte661100003.167.167.333.500
Chris Stewart661000002.
Travis Ishikawa431000100.333.250.333.583
Jung Ho Kang330000000.


Andrew McCutchen15123100032.250.400.333.733
Starling Marte13123101211.250.308.583.891
Sean Rodriguez772100303.286.286.429.714
Pedro Alvarez660000004.
Brent Morel551000001.
Francisco Cervelli440000000.
Neil Walker441000001.
Pedro Florimon320000012.000.333.000.333
Jung Ho Kang330000002.
Gregory Polanco330000001.


(At this time, there is no historical data available as Ross has only faced the Pirates once. Here’s a grisly reminder of that start as well as his season overall)

Jun 19PITW,4-1GS-8W(2-1)7.1611111

Hitter to Avoid – Bryce Harper

A.J. Burnett21195201113.263.333.526.860
Antonio Bastardo13111010127.
Vance Worley982000012.250.333.250.583
Charlie Morton653001412.600.6671.2001.867
Jeff Locke551000000.
Tony Watson550000002.
Gerrit Cole331000000.333.333.333.667
Francisco Liriano332001200.667.6671.6672.333
Arquimedes Caminero210000111.000.500.000.500
Jared Hughes210000000.000.500.000.500
Mark Melancon110000001.

Obviously the first name that comes to mind is Bryce Harper, likely NL MVP. But as we see above, Pirates pitches do fare well against him, specifically out of the bullpen. I was absolutely gobsmacked to see that Antonio Bastardo owns Harper, who has gone 1-for-13 against him. Due to that quirky stat, don’t be surprised if Bastardo comes in to pitch to Harper in certain spots late in games.

Series Prediction

With the current personnel in place, the Pittsburgh Pirates have their work cut out for them. As we saw in the Kansas City Royals series finale, the lower half to lower third of the order must be comprised of competent and proven major league hitters if you expect to have a shot to win against good teams like the Nationals. Right now, the team simply does not have that. If the Bucs were at full strength, I would feel comfortable predicting a series win. But for now, i’ll settle for a series split, with each team winning two games.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates 12 days of tradmas- Day 1- Ben Zobrist