Nationals - Pirates 4-Game Series Preview

NATIONALS/PIRATES CONTINUE PENNANT RACE BARRAGE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL WITH 4-GAME SET

So many great matchups in the bases these days! The showcase series in the National League this weekend in terms of the standings features the Washington Nationals visiting the Pittsburgh Pirates. The media will be more obsessed with Dodgers/Mets because of the media markets. But, the Nats and Pirates are much more serious championship forces than the Mets.

Though...we have to admit that it's time to start wondering about the Nationals. It's not commonly realized but Pittsburgh would have a comfortable lead on Washington if the teams played in the same division. In fact, through Tuesday night's action...the Nationals had the exact same record as the Chicago Cubs! It's not a disaster to be sitting at 50-42 through 92 games, particularly if you're in a weak division. But, Washington was supposed to be better than this if you believe the betting markets.

Thus far...Pittsburgh is playing like a superpower (with bad divisional luck to be sitting behind St. Louis), while Washington is just the Cubs.

Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have are saying about this very important weekend slam. Note that Steven Strasburg will miss the series for Pittsburgh. Their rotation looks pretty mortal when he's not at his best.

OFFENSE
Washington: 4.22 runs per game, .316 on-base, .396 slugging
Pittsburgh: 4.02 runs per game, .317 on-base, .380 slugging

Offense continues to dissolve in the post-steroid era thanks also to a re-definition of the strike zone. Washington actually ranks #4 in the NL in runs per game with that 4.22 average. Pittsburgh is fractionally above league average even though they go long stretches without scaring people with their bats. Slight edge to the Nats in this category.

THURSDAY'S PITCHERS
Doug Fister: 4.30 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 4.2 K-Rate, 5.8 IP-per-Start
Francisco Liriano: 2.98 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.8 K-Rate, 6.4 IP-per-Start

Poor season for Fister by current NL standards. He's been less than 50/50 to throw a quality start over his last 10 outings. Liriano was scratched right before his first post-ASB scheduled outing because of neck issues. He's slated to go in this series opener. If he's fully recovered...then he has a big advantage over Fister. If not...then we could see an Over kick this series off.

FRIDAY'S PITCHERS
Max Scherzer: 2.09 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 10.3 K-Rate, 7.3 IP-per-Start
Jeff Locke: 4.01 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.8 K-Rate, 5.7 IP-per-Start

Scherzer his having a fantastic season for the Nats. That's been overshadowed by Zach Greinke's scoreless inning streak for the Dodgers. If you're talking wall-to-wall baseball...Scherzer's arguably having the best overall NL season given that K-Rate and IP per start combination. Locke is just an innings-muncher at this point. He needs run support to get victories. Big edge to Scherzer in Game Two.

SATURDAY'S PITCHERS
Gio Gonzalez: 3.93 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 7.8 K-Rate, 5.9 IP-per-Start
A.J. Burnett: 2.44 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.3 K-Rate, 6.6 IP-per-Start

These pitchers have been trending toward each other in recent action. Gonzalez is bouncing back from a disappointing run Burnett is falling back to earth after a stretch of utter dominance. The difference between the two moving forward is overstated by the ERA and WHIP most likely...but probably still favors Burnett. Interesting challenge for handicappers, particularly if either team dropped the first two games and needs to get in the win column.

SUNDAY'S PITCHERS
Joe Ross: 2.70 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 9.1 K-Rate, 6.7 IP-per-Start
Gerrit Cole: 2.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.8 K-Rate, 6.6 IP-per-Start

Ross has only made four starts this season, but he's more than held his own thus far. This is his second outing vs. Pittsburgh though...and second looks can be tough for new starters because hitters have a better sense of his skill set. Cole is still putting up numbers that would have him as a Cy Young candidate in most seasons. He suffered a hard-luck 3-1 loss in Kansas City in his first appearance after the All-Star Break. Cole has home field and the better reputation. Let's see if Ross can hang tough in the Bucs' second look at him. This is probably an Under if he can in the double getaway spot.

JIM HURLEY is likely to have at least one big play in this critical NL challenge. You can purchase the final word for all daily baseball right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours.

We'll move over to the top weekend series in the American League tomorrow, before resuming our summer series of college football conference previews with the SEC. Here's the extended outlook as we start to transition to a more football-heavy slate...

Friday: MLB Series Preview...Houston at Kansas City
Saturday: College Football Preview...SEC "East"
Sunday: College Football Preview...SEC "West"
Monday: MLB Series Preview...Detroit at Tampa Bay
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview...LA Angels at Houston
Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview...NY Yankees at Texas
Thursday: College Football Preview...American Athletic Conference
Friday July 31: College Football Preview...the Independents
Saturday August 1: College Football Preview...ACC Atlantic
Sunday August 2: College Football Preview...ACC Coastal

Just a few more college conferences to go after that...and then NFL Divisional previews begin because the Hall of Fame game is the second Sunday in August. Pay attention...football is almost here!

Keep building your bankroll with sizzling summer baseball by hooking up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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