After salvaging a four game series split with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Pittsburgh Pirates return to PNC Park tonight for a three game series against the Washington Nationals.

Beginning tonight, the Pittsburgh Pirates welcome the team with the best record in the National League to PNC Park.

The Nationals, with a potent offense and stellar pitching staff, sport a 24-13 record on the season while sitting in first place in the NL East. They sit eight games ahead of the second place New York Mets and are fresh off of a 6-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday.

While the Bucs have won two games in a row, they sit at 16-22 as the last place team in the NL Central. Despite their lackluster play, they sit just six games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals in a division filled with inconsistent ball clubs.

The Nats provide a very tough opponent for the Pirates. They are the best hitting team in baseball, which is bound to provide some interesting matchups to keep an eye on. With that being said, let’s get to our three matchups to watch:

3.) Andrew McCutchen vs. Stephen Strasburg

The struggles from 2016 have translated in to 2017 for Andrew McCutchen. The former NL MVP is hitting a minuscule .212 this season with six home runs and 17 RBIs. He has also struck out 28 times and walked on 15 occasions.

While Cutch has struggled as a whole this season, his numbers in his career against tonight’s Washington starter aren’t much better. In his career against Stephen Strasburg, McCutchen is 3-for-16 (.188) with an RBI, two walks and four strikeouts.

This trend could very much continue as Strasburg, who is 3-1 with a 3.28 ERA this season, has dominated the Bucs throughout his career. Since making his MLB debut against Pittsburgh in 2010, Strasburg has made six career starts against the team, striking out 60 in 43 innings while sporting a stellar 2.51 ERA.

The 28-year old, who is one of two Washington aces along with Max Scherzer, provides a difficult matchup for each hitter in the Pirates lineup; however, if history were to repeat itself, McCutchen could be in for a long night.

2.) Gerrit Cole vs. Bryce Harper

Let’s face it, out of all of the matchups this series could provide, the one involving the Pirates best pitcher and the Nationals best hitter is the one fans will want to see.

With the sudden announcement regarding Jameson Taillon undergoing surgery for suspected testicular cancer, Gerrit Cole has served well in his role as Pirates ace, carrying the rotation.

While his 1-4 record doesn’t completely illustrate how good he has been, Cole’s 3.06 ERA in eight starts along with his 47 strikeouts in 50 innings prove he might be back to his stellar form that allowed him to win 19 games and compile a 2.60 ERA in 2015.

Cole, who is expected to start tomorrow, will have to deal with the Nationals high powered offense led by former MVP Bryce Harper.

This season, Harper has been nothing short of phenomenal, sporting a .384 batting average – good for second in baseball – along with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs.

In his career against Cole, Harper is 3-for-8 with a pair of strikeouts.

While this might mean that Harper could be due for a big game against Cole, it could also provide an opportunity for Cole to continue the trend of success against the Nats slugger.

1.) Tyler Glasnow vs. Ryan Zimmerman

Before the arrival of Harper, Ryan Zimmerman was seen as the cornerstone of the Nationals franchise.

A career .280 hitter, Zimmerman already has 13 home runs this season, the same guy that has hit a combined 36 home runs the past three seasons combined.

The 32-year old has battled a ton of injuries throughout the years, but looks to be healthy once again. His league leading .385 batting average is indicative of this.

While Zimmerman, like Harper, can provide a tough matchup for every Pirates pitcher, he may provide a more difficult task at the plate for Pirates rookie Tyler Glasnow.

Glasnow has experienced plenty of growing pains this season, sporting a 1-3 record with a 7.98 ERA. The young prospect has compiled just two quality starts among his seven this season.

The growing pains could very well continue in Glasnow’s next start Thursday. Zimmerman is red hot as of late and is bound to give Glasnow all that he can handle.

Jose Negron

Jose Negron is a 22 year old journalist from the North Huntingdon area. A recent graduate of California University of Pennsylvania, Jose has written for Rumbunter and Pirates Breakdown for the past year. He is the former Editor in Chief and Sports Editor of Cal U's campus newspaper, the Cal Times. He also covers high school sports for the Mon Valley Independent and serves as a contributor for Pittsburgh Sporting News, covering the Pirates. During the summer of 2015, he also interned with TribLive Radio, writing for their online blog, helping in the production of various radio shows and even appearing on the air.