Opposite dugout: Pirates riding rollercoaster season to top of NL Central

Manager: Clint Hurdle (8th season)

Record: 17-11

Last 10 games: 5-5

Who to watch: LF Corey Dickerson (.316 with 30 hits, 15 RBIs); CF Starling Marte (.288 with 3 HR, 8 SB); 1B Josh Bell (.241 with 26 hits, 16 RBIs); RHP Jameson Taillon (2-2, 4.91 ERA); RHP Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.32 ERA)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (4-3 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

April 30: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-2) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (1-2), 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 1: RHP Jameson Taillon (2-2)vs. RHP Max Scherzer (5-1), 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 2: RHP Ivan Nova (2-1) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (2-3), 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 3: LHP Steven Brault (2-1) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (0-0), 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Pirates:

If you like roller coasters, try rooting for the Pirates. Eleven wins in their first 15 games, followed by losses in seven of their next eight, capped off with a five-game winning streak heading into tonight's series against the Nationals. Add it all up, and the Pirates find themselves atop the National League Central, with every other team - well, except the Reds - close on their heels.

Pittsburgh's success is largely due to the club's sixth-ranked offense. The Pirates boast a .259 team average and have scored 36 runs in their past six games. The team's primary power source is right fielder Gregory Polanco. The 24-year-old leads the team with six home runs and 15 runs scored. His power comes at a cost, however, as Polanco's average is hovering around the Mendoza line. For an impressive average, look no further than Polanco's partner in the outfield, Corey Dickerson. The left fielder is batting .316 and is second on the team in hits (30) and total bases (47). Pay attention, too, to center fielder Starling Marte, who is hitting .288 and is a force along the base paths with eight stolen bases.

Chad Kuhl starts for Pittsburgh in tonight's series opener. Kuhl has enjoyed a solid start to the season, posting a 3-1 record and a respectable 4.55 ERA. He's coming off back-to-back quality starts, but has given up at least four earned runs in his road starts this year. Jameson Taillon was off to a sensational start, pitching to a 0.89 ERA over his first three outings. He scuffled in his latest outing, however, issuing seven earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the Tigers. In two career starts against the Nationals, Taillon has allowed four earned runs over 12 innings, but failed to reach a decision in either game. Wednesday's matchup pits Pirates ace Ivan Nova opposite the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg. Nova hasn't been unhittable this season, but a 3.32 ERA shows he's consistently given hitters trouble. Nova has given up three earned runs or fewer in five of his six starts, and amassed 30 strikeouts to just four walks. In two career starts at Nationals Park, Nova is 1-0 with a stingy 1.86 ERA. It'll be left-hander Steven Brault for Pittsburgh in the series finale. Brault is in just this third season in the majors, but is holding his own with a 2-1 record and 4.97 ERA. Oddly enough, Brault's statistics are better on the road this year. He's 1-1 with a 5.74 ERA at home and 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA away from PNC Park.

Last season, Felipe Vazquez emerged as the Pirates closer, tallying 21 saves and a 1.67 ERA. Vazquez has picked up right where he left off in 2018, earning five saves in as many chances. Vazquez's ERA might seem a bit inflated at 3.97, but of the five earned runs given up this season, four of them came on opening day. Joining Vazquez in the bullpen are relievers Tyler Glasnow, George Kontos, and Michael Feliz.

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