For the amount that the Washington Nationals have struggled at the plate this year, they are about to face a team whose bats are more lackluster and who even score fewer runs.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (12-16), who the Nationals will face in a three game series on the road this week, have scored the least amount of runs in baseball (78, 2.79 runs per game), lagging significantly behind the 27th place Nats (96, 3.43 runs per game).
Despite the Nationals (18-10) minimal scoring, they have remained in first place in the National League East, and are currently tied for second best record in the Major Leagues (behind a three-way tie for first). The Pirates on the other hand, who are now tied for fourth place in their division, have sat at the bottom of the standings in the NL Central for most of the season. While statistically the two teams are quite similar - the Nationals are only above the "Bucs" by ten points in batting average and slugging, and have the same number of home runs - their differing attitudes and viewpoints from the top and the bottom of the pack may make all the difference in determining the winning team from the loser.
Historically the Nationals have done well against the Pirates with an overall record of 26-21, although they are 10-12 at PNC Park.
Injuries on injuries on injuries
Key players for both the Pirates and the Nationals have taken unfortunate trips down Disabled List Lane recently. Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' hottest hitter, has been out since Sunday with the stomach flu, but is anticipated to be in the lineup today. For the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche - out with shoulder inflammation and a bruised abdominal muscle, respectively - are both expected back on the card today as well. Unfortunately, slugging right fielder Jayson Werth will join Michael Morse on the way-too-many-days DL with a broken wrist.
While the Nationals have continued to win most of their games since their three- and four-hole hitters have been out, Zim and LaRoche will certainly be welcomed back with a sigh of relief from everyone, because as @Nati2de put it on Twitter, the Nats lineup is beginning to "resembl[e] an ER."
The Nationals could surely use LaRoche's powerful bat back in the lineup - he leads the team in batting average (.311), OPS (.903), and is tied for home runs (4). Also, as mentioned by Andrew Simon MLB.com, LaRoche is ranked sixth in home runs of every player to ever take the field at PNC Park, with 34.
Without LaRoche, Zimmerman and Werth, the Nats are hitting .226 and slugging .328. Although those figures don't seem very far from where they are with those three in the lineup (.238, .353), every little bit matters when the team seems to make a practice of playing games decided by only one run.
The Nationals will look to improve their numbers this week against the Pirates, as their opponent batting average and slugging percentage are .248 and .386.
Setting records for the wrong reasons
A.J. Burnett will take the mound to open the series in his first start since the most abysmal outing of his career. Last Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, Burnett pitched only 2 2/3 innings, yet he allowed a whopping 12 runs on 12 hits, two of which were home runs. As Burnett searched for the strike zone, he watched his ERA skyrocket from 1.38 to 8.04. By the time he abandoned the rubber, he had earned the titles of first Pirates pitcher to allow 12 earned runs in a game since 1932, and second player to give up so many runs in three innings or less since 1948, according to Simon.
Prior to that incident, Burnett had given up only nine hits and two earned runs in 13.0 innings this season. The 35-year-old righty has logged a 4.14 ERA through his 14 year career.
Whether his confidence was rattled, or if he will return to his more solid former self will be determined tonight.
Andrew McCutchen (CF) .298 AVG, .383 SLG, 0 HR, 7 RBI
Pedro Alvarez (3B) .247, .571 SLG, 7 HR, 15 RBI
Rod Barajas (C) .133 AVG, .200 OBP, 10 SO, 0 HR
Clint Barmes (C) .165 AVG, .202 OBP, 21 SO, 2 HR
Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.69 ERA) vs. A.J. Burnett (1-2, 8.04 ERA)
Ross Detwiler (3-1, 1.59 ERA) vs. Erik Bedard (2-4, 2.65 ERA)
Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.66 ERA) vs. Kevin Correia (1-2, 3.38 ERA)