As the Washington Nationals (48-50) flounder through what has been a largely mediocre season, they prepare to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates (57-39), who are in the midst of one of their most promising seasons in two decades.
After 20 years of losing seasons, the Pirates sit in second place in the NL Central, two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Though there is still time for a collapse reminiscent of 2011 and 2012, the Pirates were the first team to reach 50 games in June, and are currently owners of the third-best record in baseball.
Their superb pitching has been responsibly for much of their success, as they have the lowest ERA (3.07) and opponent batting average (.226) in baseball.
However, those numbers won’t stop the Nationals from entering the four-game series with the intent of winning it.
"I'm sure everyone's sick of hearing it, but it's got to turn around at some point," Ian Desmond said, according to MLB.com. "And if it doesn't, then we're going to keep on trying until we run out of time."
As they continue to try to climb out from third place in the NL East standings, one edge the Nationals will have over the Pirates is their NL-worst batting average with runners in scoring position. With as much as the Nationals have struggled with the same stat, playing a team with a similar trouble may prove advantageous during a crucial series.
Hitting Coach Fired
Ultimately too frustrated with their faltering offense for further inaction, the Nationals fired their hitting coach of five years, Rick Eckstein today.
The Nationals’ .240 batting average ranks 27th in the major leagues, and their average of 3.69 runs per game ranks 29th. For the potential Nats hitters have to be great, those numbers are unacceptable, and though manager Davey Johnson has called Eckstein one of the best hitting coaches he has worked with, the Nationals front office decided something needed to change.
Eckstein has been replaced by Rick Schu, former minor league hitting instructor and seven-year MLB veteran.
Following his removal, Eckstein said to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post: “It’s not about how hard I work or how good a person I am. It’s about production. … I blame only myself.”
In The Zone
Jayson Werth (RF) .273 AVG, .385 OBP, .818 SLG, 2 HR (last three games)
Garret Jones (1B) .444 AVG, .500 OBP, 1.222 SLG, 2 HR, 1 2B (last three games)
Andrew McCutchen (CF) .417 AVG, .462 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 2 HR 1 2B (last three games)
Pedro Alvarez (3B) .000 AVG, .000 OBP, .000 SLG, 4 SO (last three games)
Jose Tabata (RF) .125 AVG, .300 OBP, .125 SLG, 0 SO (last three games)
7/22, Dan Haren (4-10, 5.61 ERA, .299 BAA, 81 SO) vs. Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.19 ERA, .248 BAA, 22 SO)
7/23, Taylor Jordan (0-2, 3.32 ERA, .314 BAA, 10 SO) vs. Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.89 ERA, .283 BAA, 25 SO)
7/24, Stephen Strasburg (5-7, 2.97 ERA, .220 BAA, 115 SO) vs. Francisco Liriano (9-4, 2.44 ERA, .225 BAA, 84 SO)
7/25, Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.89 ERA, .207 BAA, 125 SO) vs. A.J. Burnett (4-7, 3.07 ERA, .221 BAA, 118 SO)