Manager: Clint Hurdle (7th season)
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: CF Andrew McCutchen (87 RBIs, 28 HR), LF Starling Marte (20 steals), 1B Josh Bell (87 RBIs, 25 HR), RHP Gerrit Cole (1.239 WHIP), LHP Felipe Rivero (20 saves)
Season series vs. Nationals: 2-1
Sept. 28: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Edwin Jackson, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 29: RHP Gerrit Cole vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 30: RHP Jameson Taillon vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Oct. 1: TBA vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 3:05 p.m., MASN
Inside the Pirates:
The Pirates have been a sub-.500 team since the last week of July. September has been especially brutal, including a 1-12 stretch in which the Bucs scored more than two runs in a game only twice. They rank 13th or worse in the National League in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage. Their current fourth-place perch in the NL Central is more than likely to be their final resting place for 2017.
Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.279/.365/.487) provided a bright spot earlier this week, hitting two homers - including a grand slam - and driving in a total of eight runs as the Pirates routed the Orioles on Tuesday night. He’s no longer posting the gaudy slash lines he did in 2012, 2013 (when he was MVP) and 2014, but McCutchen has bounced back from a subpar 2016 and has recorded his highest home run total since 2012. Left fielder Starling Marte (.268/.330/.378) has outpaced McCutchen for the team lead in stolen bases, but Marte’s numbers in that category and others took a sharp drop this year as he served an 80-game suspension early in the season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Compared to the rest of the team, Marte’s had a good September, with 10 RBIs, three homers, a triple, a double and seven steals while he’s flirted with .300 for the month. Rookie first baseman Josh Bell (.256/.333/.467) led the Pirates in RBIs until McCutchen went on his Tuesday tear. Bell had been going through a two-week dry spell, but drove in three to pull back even with McCutchen while going 3-for-4 with a home run last night against the Orioles.
After coming to Pittsburgh in a trade with the Yankees, tonight’s starter, Ivan Nova (11-14, 4.14 ERA) seemed primed to become the Bucs’ ace. He still could, but it didn’t happen this year, and Nova has recently been on a decidedly downward trend. In his last eight starts, the right-hander has gone 1-6 while pitching to a 5.74 ERA and allowing eight homers. Friday starter Gerrit Cole (12-11, 4.23 ERA) has suffered from inconsistency. After going 5-1 with eight quality starts in 10 tries starting July 5, Cole has had a rocky September, going 1-3 with a 5.58 ERA. Second-year man Jameson Taillon (8-7, 4.62 ERA), who goes to the hill on Saturday, has gone 1-1 in his last two starts. He took something of a bad beat at home against the Brewers Sept. 18, giving up just two runs over five innings while the Pirates were shut out. The Pirates haven’t announced Sunday’s starter, but it could be rookie right-hander Trevor Williams, who is 7-9 with a 4.07 ERA.
Former National Felipe Rivero (5-3, 1.72 ERA) has made himself into an effective closer in his first full year with the Pirates. He got mixed results in the team’s recent series with the Cardinals, though. He earned a save in Sunday’s finale, but in the Friday opener gave up two runs on three hits in the ninth, taking a loss while blowing his first save opportunity in his last 10 chances. He recorded his 20th save last night at home against Baltimore.