Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nationals vs. Pirates (6/19-6/21)

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Jun 6, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits a home run against the Atlanta Braves in the fourth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It was an up-and-down week for the Washington Nationals (34-33). Despite putting up 16 runs and 23 hits in a win over the Rays on Tuesday, they lost three out of four games in the series and now they wait to see if their superstar right fielder will be out for an extended period of time.

In the top of the sixth inning of Thursday night’s 5-3 loss, Bryce Harper injured his left hamstring on a throw to the plate. He is out of the lineup tonight and will be undergoing more tests to see how severe the injury is.

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Despite being a game over .500 and having lost six of 11 games this month, the Nats still are only 1.5 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East. The Nats will continue their eight game homestand this weekend when they face the Pittsburgh Pirates (39-27), who are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now.

Clint Hurdle’s squad,, who has made the playoffs each of the last two seasons, is coming into the Nation’s Capital on an eight-game win streak and they are 13-3 in the month of June. During this eight game win streak, they have given up just seven runs. While they are still four games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, this is a team that is getting it done at all facets of the game.

While Pittsburgh is only 17th in runs scored in baseball, they have found ways to get on base. This month, they are second in the National League in batting average (.277) and fourth in team on-base percentage (.329). Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is hitting .294 this season with eight home runs and 42 RBI’s with 12 of those RBI’s coming this month.

Another player to watch on Pittsburgh’s offense is left fielder Starling Marte. He is hitting .285 this season with 12 home runs and 45 RBI’s. Plus, he has 13 stolen bases on 18 attempts.

The strength of this Pittsburgh team is their rotation. The Nats won’t see Gerritt Cole this weekend, who is 11-2 with a 1.78 ERA. But, the Pirates are getting contributions from all five starters. This month, Pittsburgh has the best team ERA in the month of June at 1.86 and they have the best starters ERA in the NL for the season at 2.83. Even with Harper, offense might be tough to come by this weekend.

Even though Jason Grilli is no longer in the bullpen, Pittsburgh’s bullpen still has the second best ERA in the NL at 2.51. Their closer, Mark Melancon, has 23 saves in 24 chances, has given up seven earned runs in 33.2 innings, and has not blown a save since April 21.

With that being said, Let’s take a look at the three pitching matchups for this series:

Next: Tonight's Matchup