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Pirates vs. Nationals Series Preview: Pittsburgh brings hot bats to the District

Washington and Pittsburgh start a four-game set in D.C. at 7:05 PM EDT tonight with Tanner Roark on the mound against Jameson Taillon.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pirates (17-11) vs. Nationals (12-16) series info:

Game 1: Monday, April 30 at 7:05 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Tuesday, May 1 at 7:05 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7)

Game 3: Wednesday, May 2 at 7:05 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7)

Game 4: Thursday, May 3 at 1:05 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Monday: Jameson Taillon (2-2, 4.91 ERA) vs. Tanner Roark (1-2, 3.77)

Tuesday: Chad Kuhl (3-1, 4.55) vs. Max Scherzer (5-1, 1.62)

Wednesday: Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.32) vs. Stephen Strasburg (2-3, 3.63)

Thursday: Trevor Williams (4-1, 2.29) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 4.11)

What to watch for:

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in April anymore

The Nationals have stumbled out to a 12-16 start, putting them six games back in the NL East with a run differential of only +3. Injuries have played a role in their sluggish play, but the team is going to need to get something going if they’re going to get back in the playoff race. The calendar will turn to May midway through this series, so the “it’s still early” excuse is running out of steam. It’s reasonable to expect the tide to turn, but it needs to happen quickly before the team buries itself in too big a hole.

Mad Max is on a tear

Since Max Scherzer won’t be pitching until May 1, his April bid for NL Pitcher of the Month is in the books. He leads the Senior Circuit with five wins, 57 strikeouts and a 1.77 FIP. Alongside him in the running are Johnny Cueto (MLB-best 0.84 ERA, 0.688 WHIP), Patrick Corbin (4-0 record in NL-high 40 IP), Jacob deGrom (2.06 ERA, 48 Ks) and Carlos Martinez (1.43 ERA, 0.2 HR/9). Cueto has the best baseball card numbers, but if the commissioner’s office takes Scherzer’s NL-best 1.6 fWAR into account, he might have another award to go up on the mantle.

The Pirates look for real

The Chicago Cubs haven shaken off their sluggish start to rise up the NL Central standings and sit just half a game back of the Pirates for the top spot. However, Pittsburgh has fended the Cubs off with some impressive play of its own, winning five straight ahead of the team’s series with Washington. The Pirates have the third best team OPS in the National League (.743) and 26-year-old Trevor Williams has gotten off to a strong start in the middle of their rotation. Even after trading former stars Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen over the offseason, Pittsburgh looks like a formidable threat as long as the offense can sustain its hot hitting.

Series history:

The Nationals lead the all-time series (2005-present) 46-40, posting a .613 winning percentage against Pittsburgh at Nationals Park. Washington dropped four of seven contests between the two clubs last season, splitting a four-game series in the District.