Opposite dugout: Pirates quickly losing the wind in their sails

Manager: Clint Hurdle (8th season)

Record: 41-48

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: CF Starling Marte (.278 with 10 HR, 22 SB); LF Corey Dickerson (.308 with 92 hits, 19 2B); 1B Josh Bell (76 hits, 42 RBIs); RHP Trevor Williams (6-7, 4.60 ERA); RHP Ivan Nova (4-6, 4.48 ERA); LHP Felipe Vázquez (3.38 ERA, 18 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 0-4

Pitching probables:

July 9: RHP Erick Fedde (1-3) vs. RHP Ivan Nova (4-6); 7:00 p.m., MASN2
July 10: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-1) vs. RHP Joe Musgrove (3-3); 7:05 p.m., MASN2
July 11: LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-5) vs. RHP Trevor Williams (6-7); 12:35 p.m., Facebook

Inside the Pirates:

Strangely enough, the Pirates are one of the few teams in baseball who are exactly where most thought they'd be. Following three straight trips to the postseason between 2013 and 2015, the Pirates took steps back the next two years, finishing below .500 and out of contention for another playoff appearance. With the franchise's stock seemingly trending south, 2018 was thought to be a transition year, particularly following the departure of former Most Valuable Player - and beloved Pirate - Andrew McCutchen. And despite a surprise 17-12 start to the season, hotter temperatures have resulted in a cooled-off squad in Pittsburgh. Entering this series against the Nationals, the Pirates are 41-48 and falling fast in a competitive National League Central.

Arguably the biggest reason the Pirates have been able to hover around the .500 mark is an offense that is littered with talent. Pittsburgh boasts one of the best duos in all of baseball in the outfield with left fielder Corey Dickerson and center fielder Starling Marte. Dickerson went largely unnoticed in his years with Colorado and Tampa Bay, but in his first season in Pittsburgh, the 29-year-old is finally getting the attention he deserves. Dickerson leads the team with a .308 batting average and 92 hits, and while his power numbers are slightly down from a year ago, he is still on track to finish with double-digit home runs for the fifth straight season. Marte, meanwhile, is not only a threat at the plate, but along the basepaths, as well. He's tallied 81 hits and a respectable .278 batting average, while his 22 stolen bases are tied for third in the majors. Keep an eye on rookie third baseman Colin Moran, too. Moran has established himself as the Pirates' everyday man at the hot corner, boasting a .258 batting average with 63 hits and a dozen extra-base hits.

Right-hander Ivan Nova gets the start for Pittsburgh in tonight's series opener. Nova has struggled a bit against the Nationals during his career, posting a 1-2 record and 4.91 ERA. However, the Pirates ace is coming off of an impressive June, during which he recorded three quality starts and amassed a 1.75 ERA. Righty Joe Musgrove will look to carry over the momentum he achieved from his latest outing. On June 29, the right-hander blanked the Padres over seven innings, tallying five strikeouts en route to his third win of the season. That's a good sign for Musgrove, who had allowed at least five earned runs in his previous back-to-back starts prior to his meeting with San Diego. In Wednesday's series finale, right-hander Trevor Williams will try to get his record back to .500. Williams has already made 18 starts for the Pirates this season, and while he's never really registered an awful start - he's never given up more than five earned runs in any start - Williams is certainly hittable. He faced the Nationals on May 3, giving up three earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 3-1 loss.

Former National Felipe Vázquez handles the closing duties for the Pirates. Vazquez pitched for the Nationals in 2015 and part of 2016 as Felipe Rivero, but seems to have found his niche in Pittsburgh. The 26-year-old has 18 saves on the season and a 3.38 ERA. Joining him in the bullpen are relievers Tyler Glasnow, Kyle Crick, and Michael Feliz.

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