Washington Nationals Second Half Preview

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Apr 7, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon (6) and right fielder Bryce Harper (34) celebrate after scoring against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon (6) and right fielder Bryce Harper (34) celebrate after scoring against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jun 29, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) runs home to score a run against the Seattle Mariners during the second inning at Safeco Field. Pittsburgh defeated Seattle, 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 29, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) runs home to score a run against the Seattle Mariners during the second inning at Safeco Field. Pittsburgh defeated Seattle, 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Pittsburgh Pirates

When: at Washington, July 15-17

Hitter to Watch: Starling Marte – 82 G, 336 PA, .316/.363/.460, 6 HR, 32 RBI, 48 R, 30 SB

Pitcher to Watch: Mark Melancon – 40 G, 36.2 IP, 27 SV, 1.23 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 0.982 WHIP, 7.9 K/9

The Cubs may be the class of the NL Central, but the Pittsburgh Pirates are making a strong push behind them. After getting off to a rough 34-39 start, Pittsburgh has shown that they’re contenders rather than pretenders with a 12-4 record since June 23.

Their offense has been rather unspectacular—the Pirates’ 423 runs scored ranks twelfth in MLB—and not many lineups are going to be very scared of their disappointing rotation, but Pittsburgh is finding ways to win baseball games anyway. While they sit seven and a half games back of Chicago, the Pirates are only a game and a half behind the Mets and Marlins for the second Wild Card spot.

Gerrit Cole will be returning from the Disabled List in the next week, giving the pitching staff their much-needed ace back atop the rotation. Andrew McCutchen is having a down year by his standards (.247 BA, 14 HRs), but will be looking to have a stronger second half after an encouraging last few weeks.

With the Wild Card race figuring to be a tight finish all the way to the end, every game counts for the Pirates. This series with the Nationals will prove one way or another whether Pittsburgh can hang around with the top teams in the National League.

Next: Los Angeles Dodgers

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