Opposite dugout: Pirates have punch and are viable in an NL Central still up for grabs

PiratesLogo.jpgManager: Clint Hurdle (7th year)

Record: 26-31

Last 10 games: 5-5

Who to watch: 2B Josh Harrison (.308/.371/.466), CF Andrew McCutchen (.232/.313/.419, 28 RBIs) RF Gregory Polanco (.264/.338/.403, 7 steals), 1B Josh Bell (.221/.300/.447, 11 HR), LHP Tony Watson (4-1, 10 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (1-3 in 2014)

Pitching probables:
June 6: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Kevin Gausman, 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 7: RHP Chad Kuhl vs. LHP Wade Miley, 7:05 p.m., MASN2

Just four games separate the first- and last-place teams in the National League Central, and while the defending world champion Cubs are starting to look like they're finally recovering from their hangover, no club in the division appears ready to run away with it. So although the Pirates are now looking up at the Brewers, they also have been on the upswing of late, going 12-9 since May 13 and capping a series victory this weekend with an 11-1 win over the Mets. As with the Orioles, starting pitching appears to be Pittsburgh's main cause for concern. More on that later.

The longtime face of the Pittsburgh franchise, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, has struggled at the plate at times this year. His average has been climbing since it bottomed out at .200 on May 23, but .232 is still a long way from his career average of .289. On the other hand, McCutchen's nine homers this year put him on pace to at least match last year's 24, and his totals for RBIs, doubles, triples and stolen bases sync up pretty closely with those of his past three seasons. The veteran has done well at Camden Yards, too, going 7-for-19 in 24 plate appearances, and he's swiped two bases in Baltimore. The Bucs now are doing without All-Star, Gold Glove left fielder Starling Marte, currently serving an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Though both are left-handed batters, manager Clint Hurdle has worked a platoon of sorts in right field with John Jaso (.231/.318/.385, 12 RBIs) and Gregory Polanco (.264/.338/.403, 13 RBIs). Everyday left fielder Adam Frazier (.308/.380/.429, 20 RBIs) has been leading off for the Pirates. Switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell is batting just .196 with runners in scoring position, but five of his 11 homers have come in such situations. Second baseman Josh Harrison shares with Frazier the team lead in batting average and is third on the club in home runs. He left Sunday's game with a calf injury, however, and his status for the two-game series in Baltimore remains in question.

Orioles hitters will face the best and worst of what the Pittsburgh starting rotation has to offer. Longtime Yankee Ivan Nova, who starts tonight for the Pirates, seems to have benefited from the change of scene since the Yanks dealt him Aug. 1 for prospects. In 11 starts for Pittsburgh at the end of last season, Nova went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA. He's had 11 more starts this year, pitching to a 2.92 ERA while going 5-4. Nova is an innings-eater for the Bucs, going at least six in each of his 11 starts in 2017, which include a complete-game victory in Miami on April 29. Wednesday's starter, Chad Kuhl, on the other hand, might be more representative of the Pirates' starting staff. Unlike Nova, Kuhl has left the Bucs bullpen with plenty of work, getting past the fifth inning just twice in 11 starts while posting a 1-5 record with 6.02 ERA. O's left-handed hitters, especially, should look forward to seeing Kuhl. Lefties are hitting .343 against him, more than 100 points better than righties. He'll also give the Birds a more-than-fair shot at keeping up their number for RBIs recorded with two outs. Batters facing Kuhl with two outs and runners in scoring position are hitting .269.

Closer Tony Watson has saved 10, but has blown two of his last three save opportunities, including his most recent one. In a May 29 outing against Arizona, he surrendered the two-run lead the Bucs had going into the ninth inning. He picked up a win when the Pirates scored in the home half.

Orioles continue homestand vs. Pirates, more on Ma...
Did O's steady the ship with 4-3 run?

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/