April 30 – May 3: Pittsburgh Pirates
The home stand continues when the Pittsburgh Pirates come to town. This team is surprising all of baseball with their start. Their 12-6 record earns them the top spot in the N.L. Central.
After trading away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, many believed this team would begin the rebuilding process by tanking. Apparently, manager Clint Hurdle didn’t get that memo.
A star does not lead the Pirates, but as a team they collectively produce. Their .773 team OPS ranks 6th in the MLB. Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson shoulder the load offensively, both of whom have slugging percentages over .525
Their pitching, however, leaves much to be desired. But their ace, Jameson Taillon, is fantastic and a budding star who is not receiving a lot of media attention. His 0.89 ERA is exceptional, albeit unsustainable.
What’s even more remarkable about him is that he is pitching at this elite level even after missing a big chunk of last season after undergoing treatment for cancer.
One key matchup to watch is the Pirates lineup against the Nationals big strikeout pitchers, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The Pirates lineup is among the league’s best in not striking out. Their team strikeout rate is 17.8%. Compare that to the strikeout percentages of Scherzer (38.4%) and Strasburg (24.8%), and something will have to give.
The Pirates, like the Boston Red Sox in the American League, annoy pitchers by fouling pitches off, having a keen eye and walking a lot. It’s a team effort to knock a starter out of a game. And if this happens, the Pirates can feast on an inconsistent Nationals bullpen.