By Jared Lankes
After getting to soak in the All-Star break, I hope you are all ready for baseball once again. The Pirates surged to close out the first half, including a series victory over the Cubs to finish it off. The Pirates look primed to make a deep run into this season as a team that can get to the playoffs once again. However, the road to that doesn’t start off easy. It starts in Washington, where they had terrible fortunes a season ago. This misfortune started with a no-hitter thrown by Max Scherzer and Charlie Morton not even getting through the first inning in a disastrous start the next day. The Pirates hope to turn it around this year against the first-place Nationals, but it will certainly not be easy.
Friday: Stephen Strasburg (12-0 2.62 ERA) vs Francisco Liriano (5-8 5.15 ERA) 7:05 ET
Who could forget the night that disappointed many Pirates fans but at the same time enlightened many fans of the game to young righty Stephen Strasburg? – From the minute he walked out and dominated the Pirates, except Delwyn Young, that night, Strasburg has been revered (not like his teammate Ben Revere) as one of the best the league has to offer. The oft-injured righty got a huge contract extension this season, in the middle of his start coincentially, which took the best free-agent-to-be starting pitchers off the board. The Pirates won’t enjoy seeing this guy for sure. For the Pirates, it’s Francisco Liriano. While he has looked better lately, this lefty has been nothing short of disappointing this season. Hopefully a brilliant second half is over the horizon for him.
Saturday: Tanner Roark (8-5 3.01 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole (5-4 2.77 ERA) 7:05 ET
The big story out of this game is that Gerrit Cole is returning from the DL. He missed over a month with a triceps injury that he suffered against the Cardinals. The Pirates should get a big boost with the team’s ace returning. It would be huge for the Pirates to have him be right out of the get go. It starts against the Nationals lineup which isn’t a soft or hard landing by any means.
Sunday: Max Scherzer (10-6 3.03 ERA) vs Chad Kuhl (1-0 6.08 ERA) 1:35 ET
Who could forget Max Scherzer’s start against the Pirates in D.C just a season ago. He was one Jose Tabata elbow away from a perfect game. He still was able to get a no-hitter. While people can’t expect he does that again, he is still a pitcher that has shown dominance. The Pirates offense is going to have a huge challenge. On the Pirates side, it’s Chad Kuhl. It’s surprising that Kuhl gets a rotation spot to start the second half, but the Pirates are rolling with it. His last start was nowhere close to good or even acceptable. We will see if he can rebound and give the Pirates the kind of start he gave them in Oakland instead.
It would be a huge boost if the Pirates come out in the second half and win this series against the Nationals. While it isn’t a “must win” series, it would be great to get it, especially given the schedule going forward after that. It’ll be interesting to see if Liriano can figure it out and if Gerrit Cole can get it going early and often. Both of those guys will be key in their series and in the second half in general.