Pittsburgh Pirates’ Old Friends Collide as Washington Comes to Town

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished their final road trip of the season Thursday, and begin their final home stand of the season Friday at 76-76 (.500) and 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot with ten games to play. Now, the NL East-leading Washington Nationals and former Bucco Mark Melancon come to town to play three. Here is what to watch out for.

I feel as though I’m continually getting my hopes up for nothing here, but our Pittsburgh Pirates are still not out of the Wild Card hunt. 4.5 games back with 10 games to go, it is incredibly unlikely, but definitely not impossible for the Bucs to sneak in. Will it happen? No probably not. But with Washington coming to town, anything can happen.

The Nationals come into Pittsburgh with a record of 89-63 (.586) and lead the perennially weak NL East by 8.5 games. With strong pitching, a good lineup, and some trade deadline acquisitions, the Nats look poised for a deep postseason run. They come into town on a fairly average run of play, going 5-5 in their last ten games. Can the Pirates keep the dream alive? Here is what to watch out for.

Probable Pitching Match-ups

Friday: Gio Gonzalez (11-10, 4.48) vs. Jameson Taillon (4-4, 3.39)

Saturday: Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48) vs. Ivan Nova (5-1, 2.93)

Sunday: TBD vs. Steven Brault (0-3, 4.26)

The pitching match-up I’ve selected as one to watch isn’t really a pitching matchup yet. I just think that it will be important for Pirates fans and front office members alike to keep an eye on Steven Brault. Brault has been entirely uninspiring as a starter. In his seven starts, he has racked up only 31.2 innings pitched, a .298 BAA, a 1.67 WHIP, 18.6 pitches per inning pitched, and a 1.14 HR/9.

These stats don’t exactly make me happy for Brault. Maybe he’s better suited for the bullpen, but maybe these last two weeks can be a trial run for Brault to determine once and for all where he is best suited. Brault needs to learn that just throwing strikes isn’t good enough against MLB hitting. They have to be good, quality pitches away from the heart of the plate, and so far Brault has not done that.

Players to Watch
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen and Adam Frazier

Andrew McCutchen is making this thing interesting, isn’t he? Our superstar is on an insane run of form. Well, he’s on an insane run of form compared to how painfully average he has been this season. If this was last season or the seasons before, we wouldn’t be surprised at all at how he is doing. But maybe now as the season dwindles down, Cutch can carry this form into next season and begin anew, as the baddest dude in the league that we all expect him to be.

One of my personal favorite Pirates this season has been spark plug handyman Adam Frazier. Built into a mold kind of like Sean Rodriguez, Frazier can play pretty much anywhere and can give a solid contact bat off the bench. But is he an everyday player? Could he be? If the Bucs were to shop around Josh Harrison over the winter, could Frazier step in his place? Only time will tell, but Frazier will be an interesting person to keep an eye on this off-season.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper and Mark Melancon

Bryce Harper could hit a home run with his hair. I tremble every time that man steps to the plate, but honestly, he hasn’t really had a great 2016. Harper is hitting .240 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. That doesn’t really scream best player in the National League, but he is obviously the Nats’ most dangerous hitter, and the Pirates will have to limit his bat if they want to be successful this weekend. Oh, and he is the best player in the NL by the way.

Oh, Mark Melancon, how I’ve missed you. The save is a very overrated stat and Melancon’s totals during his time with the Bucs were definitely inflated, but it was nice having someone we could *usually* count on for a save. He always made it interesting, but usually slammed the door in time. That isn’t to say that Tony Watson is bad, but Melancon’s nasty stuff had him on a different level in my opinion. I understand why the trade was made, however, and Felipe Rivero is a monster.

Oh, and I can’t wait for the hot takes on Pirates twitter if Melancon records a save this weekend.

Final Verdict

As our season draws to a close with the Buccos playoff hopes hanging on by a thread, it is important to still keep an eye on positive things to take away from each and every game. Maybe a good defensive game or a good bullpen performance, the Bucs need to take away the plus side from each remaining game in order to right this ship for next season.

Prediction

The Nationals come to town and take two games, winning the series. Mark saves them both, and the Pirate ship is officially sunk.

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