Welcome to Pittsburgh Pirates Attack and Avoid. Prior to every series, I am going to give you my players that could hurt the Pirates and the team’s best course of action to avoid damage.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been in the midst of a tailspin since the beginning of June. They went from a contender to a potential trade deadline seller. That is a tough thing to admit, but it’s a sad fact. The Pirates began a series with the Washington Nationals yesterday and normally that would be a recipe for disaster, but thankfully the Nationals have been nearly as bad as the Pirates over the last few weeks of play.
On June 9th, the Nationals were 11 games over .500 and looked poised for another NL East pennant race. As it stands right now, the Nationals are .500 and sinking fast. Their plethora of talented players haven’t produced as expected and their pitching has disappointed. Sound familiar? Obviously, the expectations for the Nationals were much higher than the Pirates, so their free fall into mediocrity is much more disappointing.
Despite the recent poor play, the Nationals are still a dangerous team with many outstanding baseball players that can and will hurt you if you give them the chance.
Hitter to Avoid
The Washington Nationals may be a disappointing ball club so far, but that is not the fault of their MVP, Bryce Harper.
Harper is putting together another solid power hitting campaign as he is slugging .479 with 22 home runs and 14 doubles. Harper has been an all or nothing player so far in 2018 as he his hitting a career worst .218 and has nearly matched his strikeout total from a year ago. Harper is still drawing a ton of walks with a league high of 76 but he is not showing great plate discipline.
He can obviously still hurt you as he showed yesterday with his towering home run. He is, however, certainly a player you can stop and limit his usefulness.
Power hitters generate their power by obviously putting the ball into the air and Harper is no different. On fly balls Harper is slashing .243/.409/.486/.895 with six home runs and 18 RBIs. His overall numbers aren’t amazing, so this proves to be his most effective hitting strategy. As a hitter, he attempts to pull the ball into the air and when he does, he can hurt you with his power.
Baseball is a complicated game made simple, sometimes and Harper is a testament to that. The key to beating Harper is throwing him power pitches on the inner-third of the plate and force him to put the ball onto the ground. On ground balls, Harper is hitting a worst .114/.255/.203/.458
Harper certainly picked a bad time to put up one of his least effective campaigns as this is his walk-year. However, he is still a dynamic and capable young hitter. If you throw him an off-speed pitch that is in the heart of the plate, he will make you pay.
However, the strategy against Harper is not as complicated as it was from 2015-2017. Hard and inside is how you attack and get Harper out. It’s a simple but damn effective strategy. If the Pirates wish to win this series against the Nationals, they cannot let Harper beat them. Keep it simple and effective. Easier said than done, of course.
Pitcher to Avoid
The Washington Nationals have always built their regular season success on starting pitching. For most of the last half decade, they have been the National League’s premier pitching club. This year, they have had mixed results with their rotation, but it is still certainly an above average one.
One of the biggest surprises for the Nationals has been the effectiveness of Jeremy Hellickson. The journeyman pitcher is putting up a very respectable 3.81 ERA in 11 starts this year and really seems to have bounced back following a poor 2017 season.
Hellickson has never been a stuff guy, relying mostly on changing speeds and good location. This year, he is certainly hitting more than he is missing. Normally when you have a pitcher that doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff, you want to be aggressive and that is what Hellickson is using against hitters.
If you attempt to swing early, he will get you out. On the first pitch, opposing hitters are slashing .216/.245/.314/.559. Hellickson is using aggressiveness against his opponents and is winning because of it.
The 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates as a team are not super aggressive from the batters box. At times, this can be frustrating because they are relying on an on-base approach in a newly reborn power era. However, this could bode well for the Pirates as they attempt to do damage against Hellickson.
When hitters are patient and take the first pitch against Hellickson, they are hitting .265/.312/.476/.788. If you are patient in your approach you go from a pitcher’s slash line to an above average Big League hitter. The key for the Pittsburgh Pirates against Hellickson will be to use their patience and be disciplined.
If you attempt to be aggressive, you are playing into Hellickson’s strength and you will fail more often than not. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a very good chance at winning this series tonight and if they play their cards right, the offense could put up some big numbers against a fairly solid starting pitcher.
The Washington Nationals have disappointed a lot of people so far in 2018. They were expected to be a World Series favorite and are currently hovering around .500 and are on the cusp of falling out of the NL East race as the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are both nearly six games ahead in the standings.
For the Nationals this season could be the end of their World Series window as Bryce Harper is a pending free agent and they may be tempted to sell him off at the trade deadline. We could be seeing the end of an era before our very own eyes.
The Nationals were supposed to be the next big thing in baseball and all they have given their fans is postseason failures and massive underachieving. Let’s hope the Pirates can add some dirt to the Washington Nationals shallow grave.