Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper won the National League MVP award in 2015 and has positioned himself to be among the early contenders for the honor this season. With a newly minted one-year, $21.625 million contract extension in his back pocket, Harper will look to pay even more dividends on Wednesday when the Nationals vie for a series victory over the host Pittsburgh Pirates.
Harper capped his third straight multi-hit performance with a two-run shot in Washington’s 8-4 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday, improving to 10-for-21 with three homers and seven RBIs during his five-game hitting streak. The 24-year-old is batting a majors-best .388 overall and a staggering .439 with seven homers and 18 RBIs on the road this season heading into a matchup with Wednesday starter Gerrit Cole, against whom he is 3-for-8 in his career. While the Nationals have won four of five to move 12 games over .500 to build a sizable cushion atop the NL East, the Pirates have dropped seven of nine to make themselves comfortable in the NL Central cellar. Former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen’s nightmarish season continued Tuesday when he was removed as part of a double-switch in the eighth inning after a 0-for-4 effort dropped his batting average to .206.
TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, MASN (Washington), ROOT (Pittsburgh)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Nationals RH Jacob Turner (2-1, 3.31 ERA) vs. Pirates RH Gerrit Cole (1-4, 3.06)
Turner will make his second start of the season and eighth appearance on Wednesday, although his lone encounter versus Pittsburgh came in 2014 while pitching for the Chicago Cubs. The 25-year-old picked up the win after allowing one run on one hit in two-thirds of an inning of relief in Sunday’s 6-5 triumph over Philadelphia. Turner pitched well in his lone start of the season, permitting three runs on six hits while striking out six without walking a batter in a no-decision at Colorado on April 24.
Cole has posted seven consecutive quality starts, but a lack of run support has led to a less-than-desirable record after signing a $3.75 million deal in the offseason. The 26-year-old, who has received one run or fewer in three of his last five starts, fell to 0-3 in those five outings despite allowing two runs in seven innings of a 2-1 setback at Arizona on Thursday. Cole has pitched well in four career starts versus Washington, posting a 2-1 mark with a 2.92 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.
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1. Four of Pittsburgh INF Josh Harrison’s eight hits over the last six games have gone for extra bases (three doubles, one homer).
2. Washington OF Jayson Werth is 16-for-32 with three homers, five RBIs and nine runs scored in his last eight contests.
3. Pirates 1B Josh Bell has recorded four extra-base hits (two homers, two doubles) in his last four games.
PREDICTION: Pirates 3, Nationals 2