Series #13: Three Games with the Best Team in NL

Series Quick Look
Tuesday, May 16, 7:05PM 
Wednesday, May 17, 7:05PM

Thursday, May 18, 12:35PM
at PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

The Bucs are back at home to face the Nationals (formerly the Expos) in a three-game series. These two franchises have been playing every year since 1969…nice. The Pirates have the all-time lead on the Nationals/Expos, but they haven’t won a season series since 2013. After this series, we won’t see the Nationals again until the final series of the regular season on September 28 to October 1 at Nationals Park in DC. While the Pirates sit at 16-22 in last place of the NL Central, the Nationals are running away with their division with a 24-13 record and a massive eight-game lead over the Mets.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Pirates lead 316-292
Last matchup…September 23-25, 2016. Nationals took two-of-three, outscoring the Pirates 21-14.

About the Nationals:
The Nationals come into the ‘Burgh boasting the best record and the top offense in the National League. They rank first in team average, on-base percentage, slugging, wOBA and wRC+ with 118. Even with the loss of center fielder Adam Eaton for the season, the Nats are tearing the cover off the ball. First, there’s Bryce Harper (215 wRC+) who’s walking at an elite 18.8 BB%. He has 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 34 games this season. But the surprising story is the reemergence of Ryan Zimmerman, who worked to change his swing with Daniel Murphy over the offseason and it’s paying off. Zimmerman has recorded 13 home runs and a 212 wRC+ with a crazy .408 isolated power. Oh yeah and Murphy isn’t too bad either with a 134 wRC+. As for pitching, the Nats rotation ranks fourth in the NL in ERA (3.77) and FIP (3.86), but it’s their bullpen that is the weakness. Their pen is second to last in NL with a 5.33 ERA and one of only three teams in the NL with a negative WAR. Blake Treinen was slated to close first, but Dusty Baker removed him from the role after his struggles to go with a closer-by-committee, but it hasn’t worked as Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover and even free agent pickup Joe Blanton have struggled. Think they could use Felipe Rivero this year? Pirates will need to make the rotation work, get the pitch count up and get into that dismal bullpen.


5/16: RHP Chad Kuhl (5.81 ERA/3.79 FIP, 93 FIP-) vs.
RHP Stephen Strasburg (3.28 ERA/2.82 FIP, 69 FIP-)

Chad Kuhl will make his 8th start to the season and while his ERA number looks no bueno, it stems from one awful start against the Cubs where he allowed nine runs in 1.2 innings. His 93 FIP- is actually above average. Kuhl’s actually faced the Nats one time last year and he blanked them through six innings with one hit and five strikeouts. Let’s hope he repeats that performance. Meanwhile, Strasburg is off to a really good start this season through seven starts, but he’s also coming off his worst outing of 2017 when he allowed five runs on eight hits in six innings against the Orioles. Strasburg will be a tough test for the Pirates lineup Tuesday night.

5/17: RHP Gerrit Cole (3.06 ERA/3.56 FIP, 88 FIP-) vs.

Cole makes his ninth start of 2017, and the ace looks to be getting better with each start. He’s coming off his two longest outings of the season, going seven innings in each game but not getting a win in either with his hard luck loss. Pirates won 2-1 late in one start and lost 2-1 in his last one. Cole deserves some run support and let’s hope Freese and Frazier help bring that stability back to the lineup. Cole’s made four starts in his career against Washington and to good results with a 2.92 ERA in those games. We’re still waiting word on who will start for the Nats in this one after they pitched Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez Sunday in a doubleheader against the Phillies. Joe Ross and A.J. Cole are down in AAA and former Marlins pitcher Jacob Turner has made a start for the Nationals, but he also pitched Sunday during the doubleheader out of the pen.

5/18: RHP Tyler Glasnow (7.98 ERA/5.47 FIP, 134 FIP-) vs.
RHP Tanner Roark (3.88 ERA/3.69 FIP, 89 FIP-)

Glasnow looked to be turning a corner with his development, but he ran smack into a brick wall in his last start regressing backward with seven runs on seven hits in just 2.1 innings in Arizona. This time it wasn’t walks or a high pitch count, it was hard hits all over the yard, including two home runs by Chris Iannetta and Brandon Drury. If Glasnow doesn’t show improvement this time, I’m not sure how much longer the Pirates will keep him in the rotation with options like Tyler Eppler (2.90 ERA), Drew Hutchison (3.86 ERA) and Clay Holmes (3.38 ERA) all pitching well in Triple-A. The Nats will toss Roark against the Bucs in this afternoon game and he’s off a nice start to the season with an 89 FIP-, but he’s also coming off his shortest outing of the season with just 4.2 innings and four runs allowed versus the Phillies. Roark has a 2.55 career ERA versus Pittsburgh in four appearances and two starts.

TV (Tuesday & Wednesday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN)
TV (Thursday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only)
Radio (All games): KDKA-FM 93.7


Jung Ho Kang (3B): Restricted List (March 11)—Work visa denied.
Starling Marte (OF): Suspended 80 games (April 18)—Use of PED’s.
Antonio Bastardo (P): 10-Day DL (April 25)—Left quad strain. 
Jameson Taillon (P): 10-Day DL (May 6)—Groin discomfort.  

Jose Marmolejos (P): 60-Day DL (Feb. 24)—Left forearm strain.
Stephen Drew (IF): 10-Day DL (April 12)—Right hamstring strain.
Sammy Solis (P): 10-Day DL (April 19)—Left elbow inflammation.
Adam Eaton (OF): 60-Day DL (May 9)—Recovering from right knee surgery (out for season).

Since returning from the 10-day DL (hamstring) on May 12, Adam Frazier is 4-for-11 (.364) with one walk and one strikeout. He found his way on base four times Sunday in the finale with the Diamondbacks with three hits and a walk. Frazier is slashing .317/.379/.433 for the season with a 120 wRC+.

The Nationals spent part of the offseason looking for a center fielder and came close to dealing for Andrew McCutchen before finally dealing two high-end pitching prospects to the White Sox in exchange for Adam Eaton. Eaton was producing until he suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery. Back to square one in center, the Nats called upon former prospect Michael Taylor to see if he could hold the spot down. Since Eaton’s injury, Taylor is hitting .333/.368/.556 with two home runs, four doubles and one triple in just 57 plate appearances. It’s a small simple size, but so far Taylor is showing the Nationals that a trade might not be needed. Taylor also comes into this series on a four-game hitting streak (7-for-16).

Despite the Pirates offense struggling so far through the 2017 season, they ranked fourth in K% for the least amount of strikeouts at 19.9%. Bucs hitters have struck out just 283 times compared to the Brewers worst 367 times. So what does that mean? Well the Pirates are putting the ball in play and walking at an above average 9.2% rate leaving me to believe their NL-worst .262 BABIP will increase at some point. Francisco Cervelli is one with a low .265 BABIP despite hitting the ball hard (89.0 mph) all over the park.

Think the Nationals are missing Felipe Rivero in their bullpen? The Nats dealt him along with prospect Taylor Hearn to Pittsburgh last July for Mark Melancon. The rental Melancon is gone now (signed with SF in free agency) and their bullpen is the second worst in the NL with a 5.33 ERA. Meanwhile, Rivero is 15th among NL relievers with a stingy 0.87 ERA. He’s already accumulated a 0.4 fWAR, a 58.8 GB% and has 22 strikeouts in 20.2 innings.

Sitting one and two among NL wRC+ leaders are Harper and Zimmerman. They have a 215 and 212 wRC+, respectively. Zimmerman is slugging a stupid .792 along with Harper’s .752 mark. There’s regression coming, at least you would think, but so far both players are not slowing down and will bring their unreal seasons to PNC Park this series.

After spending the past 14-of-17 games on the road, the Pirates are in need of some home cooking…and that starts now. The Bucs will play the next 12-of-16 at PNC Park before a 10-game homestand in mid-June after a quick five games on the road in early June. Overall, the next 22-of-31 games are at PNC for the Pirates.

The Pirates homestand rolls on with a three-game weekend series with the Phillies Friday through Sunday.

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