Opposite dugout: Pirates have gone from contender to sinking ship

PiratesLogo.jpgManager: Clint Hurdle (7th season)

Record: 16-22

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: 3B Josh Harrison (.288/.354/.455 with 5 HR, 12 RBIs), 1B Josh Bell (7 HR, 13 RBIs), CF Andrew McCutchen (6 HR, 17 RBIs), RHP Gerrit Cole (1-4, 3.06 ERA, 47 Ks), LHP Felipe Rivero (0.87 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 9 holds, 22 Ks), LHP Tony Watson (1.62 ERA, 8 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (2-4 in 2016)

Pitching probables:

May 16: RHP Stephen Strasburg vs. RHP Chad Kuhl, 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 17: RHP Jacob Turner vs. RHP Gerrit Cole, 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 18: RHP Tanner Roark vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow, 12:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Pirates:

When the Nationals return to PNC Park this week for the first time since clinching the National League East division crown there last September, they'll face a struggling Pirates team that has fallen from the successes of recent years. A team that has reached the postseason in three of the last four seasons now finds itself in last place in the NL Central. And while the other four teams in the division are within 3 1/2 games of each other, the Pirates find themselves six games back.

There's really nothing to write home about with this Pirates club, which sports one of the worst offenses in the league and a not-so-special pitching staff. No Pittsburgh batters are among the league leaders in any major statistical category, and while right-hander Ivan Nova's 2.48 ERA is fourth-best in the NL among qualified pitchers, he'll miss the Nationals this week after starting Sunday in Arizona.

Offensively, the Bucs get the most production from the hot corner. Josh Harrison, the regular starting third baseman, leads the team with 38 hits while slashing .288/.354/.455 with five homers and 12 RBIs, and David Freese posts a team-best .297/.387/.484 line along with three homers and 10 RBIs in 21 games, 17 at third. After an offseason full of trade rumors that mostly involved the Nationals, Andrew McCutchen has smacked six homers and driven in a team-high 17 runs, though he's only batting just over the Mendoza line with a .212 average. Known as Pittsburgh's center fielder, much was said about McCutchen's defensive ability during his trade talks, which may be the result of him playing 13 games so far this season in right field.

Right-hander Chad Kuhl gets the assignment for Tuesday's series opener at PNC Park. The 24-year-old University of Delaware product has had trouble going deep into games in his sophomore campaign, having only pitched into the seventh inning once in seven starts. He's 1-3 with a 5.81 ERA on the season, but pitched six scoreless innings of one-hit ball last year at Nats Park on July 17. Gerrit Cole takes the mound Wednesday night, and although he is the only other starter on this staff comparable to Nova with a 3.06 ERA and seven quality starts in eight outings, he's only 1-4, mostly due to receiving just 2.45 runs of support a start. Cole's 47 strikeouts lead the team and rank 12th in the NL. In his career, he is 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA in four starts against Washington. Rookie Tyler Glasnow gets the call for Thursday's matinee finale. In seven starts this season, he is 1-3 with a 7.98 ERA. He too has issues going deep into games, getting pulled before the fifth inning four times and only pitching into the seventh once. Glasnow gave up four runs (three earned) and seven hits in just three innings against the Nats last Sept. 25.

If and when the Pirates are able to have a late lead, the back end of their bullpen has been able to lock down wins with a pair of lefty relievers. Felipe Rivero, the former National who was sent to Pittsburgh last season in the Mark Melancon deal, is posting a 0.87 ERA and 0.82 WHIP with 22 strikeotus in 20 2/3 innings while recording nine holds. He sets up closer Tony Watson, who has a 1.62 ERA and eight saves on the season.

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