Opposite dugout: Pirates need series vs. Nats to keep wild card hopes alive

PiratesLogo.jpgManager: Clint Hurdle (6th season)

Record: 76-76

Last 10 games: 7-3

Who to watch: CF Andrew McCutchen (24 HR, 75 RBIs), RF Gregory Polanco (22 HR, 85 RBIs), LF Starling Marte (.311/.362/.457), RHP Ivan Nova (5-1, 2.93 ERA), LHP Tony Watson (3.15 ERA with 15 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 1-2

Pitching probables:

Sept. 23: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Jameson Taillon, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 24: RHP Joe Ross vs. RHP Ivan Nova, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 25: RHP A.J. Cole vs. LHP Steven Brault, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Pirates:

With the Cubs officially clinching the National League Central, the goal for the Pirates has been reaching the wild card game. But with the Mets, Giants and Cardinals in a tight race for those last two playoff berths, and the Pirates now four games back, the Bucs will need at least two, if not all three, of this weekend's games against the Nationals just to stay in contention.

As a team in a playoff race, you're supposed to focus on one game at a time and not look ahead. But with time almost running out for the Pirates, they must figure if they can win this series against the Nats and next week's four-game series against the Cubs, with a little bit of luck that, could set up an all-important season finale series against the Cardinals in St. Louis with a chance at the second wild card spot.

It's a stretch, sure, but as J.P. said multiple times in "Angels in the Outfield," it could happen.

Former NL MVP center fielder Andrew McCutchen is still leading the way for the Pirates offense. Although he's only batting .257, McCutchen has 75 RBIs to go along with his team-leading 24 home runs. In fact, the rest of the outfield leads the offense in Pittsburgh. Right fielder Gregory Polanco has a team-best 85 RBIs with 22 homers while batting .260 and left fielder Starling Marte leads the Pirates with a .311 average with 46 RBIs and 47 stolen bases.

Rookie right-hander Jameson Taillon will get the ball to start the Pirates' final homestand of the regular season. The 24-year-old is 4-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts since his debut on June 8. He hasn't faced the Nationals, but he has proven to be a solid young starter, going at least six innings in 11 of his starts and eight innings in three. Ivan Nova will start Saturday night's game. Nova was traded to the Pirates from the Yankees on Aug. 1 for players to be named, which ended up being two minor leaguers. In nine starts with the Bucs, Nova is 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA. His only loss came in his last start against the Reds and the Pirates have only lost two out his outings since acquiring him. Nova won his only career start against the Nationals in 2012, giving up just one run and seven hits over 7 2/3 innings. Left-handed rookie Steven Brault is scheduled to take the mound in the series finale at PNC Park on Sunday. The 24-year-old is off to a rough start to his career, going 0-3 with a 4.26 ERA in seven starts. The Pirates have only won two of his outings: his debut in St. Louis and his most recent start in Milwaukee.

Obviously, the Pirates sent closer Mark Melancon to the Nats in exchange for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn before the non-waiver trade deadline, so they've turned over the ninth-inning duties to left-hander Tony Watson, who has posted a 1.98 ERA in his 15 saves this year.

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