Washington Nationals Analysis: Second Half Preview

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Jun 30, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) talks to left fielder Starling Marte (6) during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates

The hottest team in baseball entered the All-Star Break winners of 14 of their last 16, including taking three of four against the team they are chasing in the NL Central, St. Louis Cardinals (56-33). The Pittsburgh Pirates (53-35) are playing better than anyone right now, despite having been swept by the Nats June 19th-21st at Nats Park. Their rotation, led by young stud Gerrit Cole (13-3, 2.30) and seasoned veteran A.J. Burnett (7-3, 2.11), has been lights out all season, posting the third best starters ERA in all of baseball (3.05).

Not to be forgotten is Pittsburgh’s shutdown bullpen, which has done its job to shorten games in absolutely dominant fashion. All-Star closer Mark Melancon (1.47, 29 saves) leads the league in saves, and underrated lefty Tony Watson (2-1, 2.09) is one of the best set-up men in the game.

The Pirates lineup, headlined by All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.295/.392/.500) and left fielder Starling Marte (.279/.328/.455), has been streaky at times, but they are always dangerous. While super utility man Josh Harrison’s (.279/.313/.384) current DL stint has hurt the team, their lineup still boasts four hitters batting over .278.

In their previous meeting earlier this season, the Nats held Pittsburgh to only three runs in the series. Behind dominant starts by Joe Ross, Max Scherzer, and Gio Gonzalez, including Scherzer’s no-hitter, the Nats were able to cool down the red hot Pirates, even after coming off a stretch in which they lost 15 of their last 22. No one else has been able to put a stop to this Pittsburgh ball club since, can the Nats do it again when they visit PNC Park for a four game series July 23-July 26?

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