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Series Preview: Braves at Pirates

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Make the Pirates walk the plank!

Greg Fiume

The Braves ended their long home stand on a strong note; it's too bad, however, that they couldn't gain any ground in the division as their next opponent, the Pirates, were swept by the Nats in DC. Now I don't care what anyone else says about where the Pirates and Braves are in the Wild Card, all the money in the world couldn't get me to root for the Nats. For their failure, the Bucs will have to be punished.

Entering this series, the Braves and Pirates have identical 64-60 records and both are 1.5 games out of the Wild Card, but the Bucs have lost five in a row while the Braves are coming off a sweep of the A's. This is the first meeting between the two in 2014.

Atlanta's last road trip was wiped from memory sucked, and the Pirates could prove to be a strict test, having the most home wins (39) of any NL team.

Pittsburgh will be without its biggest offensive stalwart Andrew McCutchen for the start of the series, as he is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday. McCutchen has been out of action since August 4 when he was intentionally drilled in the back in Arizona, fracturing one of his ribs. Despite missing two weeks, he still leads the team in hitting (.311), home runs (17), RBI (67) and OBP (.411).

McCutchen isn't the only one suffering from back problems. Neil Walker has played only six games this month and has all of two hits and Wednesday's starter, Gerrit Cole, had been out since July with a sore right lat muscle.

Even without McCutchen, there have still been a handful of guys stinging the ball in August. Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte and Russell Martin are all hitting better than .300 this month; Harrison has 25 hits in 16 games.

Next to Cutch, Pittsburgh's next biggest home run threat is Pedro Alvarez, who has 15 (let's hope it stays there). He's never been a big average guy, nor a slick fielder and this year's no different. Alvarez has committed 25 errors at third base, most of them of the throwing variety.

Pittsburgh's bullpen is near the middle of the pack ERA-wise. Mark Melancon has taken over the closer duties from Jason Grilli, who was traded to the Angels for Ernesto Frieri - a garbage-for-garbage trade. Frieri was no better and was DFA'd. The go-to bridge guys this year have been Tony Watson and Jared Hughes, but to further shore up the back end, Pittsburgh picked up John Axford off waivers.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Monday, August 18, 7:05 p.m. ET
Ervin Santana (ATL)
Last 3 starts: 18.2 IP, 18 hits, 8 ER, 8 BB, 19 K

Vance Worley (PIT)
Last 3 starts: 18.1 IP, 21 hits, 5 ER, 3 BB, 13 K

Tuesday, August 19, 7:05 p.m. ET
Aaron Harang (ATL)
Last 3 starts: 17.1 IP, 19 hits, 8 ER, 9 BB, 8 K

Francisco Liriano (PIT)
Last 3 starts: 19 IP, 10 hits, 6 ER, 6 BB, 19 K

Wednesday, August 20, 7:05 p.m. ET
Alex Wood (ATL)
Last 3 starts: 19.1 IP, 14 hits, 4 ER, 10 BB, 18 K

Gerrit Cole (PIT)
Returning from 15-day DL; last pitched July 4
2014 stats: 85.2 IP, 3.78 ERA, 29 BB, 78 K