Washington Nationals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: Predictions, Odds, Best Bets, Starting Lineups (9/14/23)
The Nationals and Pirates wrap up their four-game series with an afternoon game on Thursday, September 14. Josiah Gray takes the mound for Washington against Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller.
The Pirates are heavy betting favorites in this game with -160 moneyline odds, while the over/under is set at 8.5 runs. The prediction here is that the Nationals win and the over hits.
Nationals vs. Pirates Prediction
Note: all metrics taken before Wednesday’s games
Starting pitchers: RHP Josiah Gray (7-11, 4.13 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Keller (11-9, 4.23 ERA)
At this point in September, many young pitchers are approaching or have already eclipsed their career highs in innings pitched. Such is the case for both starting pitchers in this game.
Mitch Keller has already thrown 174-2/3 innings this season after a previous career high of 159 last season. He has started showing signs of that workload over his last few games, with the velocity on all three of his main pitches dropping in each of the last three games. It culminated in his worst outing of the season in his last start, when he allowed 8 earned runs (tied for his career high) over 5 innings against Atlanta.
Granted, he was facing a Braves team that has put together one of the greatest regular-season offensive performances in MLB history. Still, it’s concerning that his four-seam fastball averaged 93.6 mph, the slowest it’s been in a single game all season. The same is true of his sinker, which averaged 92.5 mph. His cutter, which is most effective in the low 90s, has not averaged over 90 in the last three games.
His declining velocity is not the only reason Keller struggled against the Braves. He located his pitches well and gave up soft contact on many of Atlanta’s batted balls – they just happened to find the right gaps in the defense and turn into RBIs. Many of those batted balls might have been outs against a less talented lineup like the Nationals.
Despite his declining velocity and recent bad outing, Keller is still the superior pitcher in this matchup. Over his five starts prior to the Braves game – two of which he also had low velocity – he had a 2.03 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. That stretch included 8 shutout innings against the Cubs, who have been one of the best lineups in the league since the All-Star break.
Needless to say, the Nationals are a much easier matchup than the Braves. They have been among the weaker offensive teams this season, especially over the last 30 days, when they are slashing .236/.295/.368 with a 79 wRC+ – all marks that fall in the bottom 6 in the league over that span. Even with his velocity down, Keller is more than capable of putting together a good outing against this lineup.
Josiah Gray may have a similar season-long ERA as Keller, but his numbers tell a much different story. Unlike Keller, who was an All-Star this season and has mostly been excellent lately, Gray’s season has unraveled a bit over his last six starts (23-1/3 innings). The 25-year-old has a whopping 8.49 ERA and 1.93 WHIP over that span. Command has been one of his biggest issues, as he has walked 21 batters compared to just 20 strikeouts.
Like Washington, Pittsburgh has struggled offensively this season, though not to the same extent recently. Of note, they are among the league leaders at drawing walks with a 9.2% walk rate (7th in MLB). That could become a big factor in this game given Gray’s recent propensity for yielding free baserunners.
With a superior starting pitcher, a better bullpen (discussed further below), and better recent production at the plate, Pittsburgh is understandably a heavy favorite in this game at -160 on the moneyline. For all the same reasons, we have a hard time betting against them, but we recommend laying the -1.5 spread to get the more favorable +125 odds.
Given some cause for concern with both starting pitchers, we are also inclined to take the over on 8.5 runs. Four of the six games these teams have played this season have gone over 8 runs, and another one finished at exactly 8. If Keller pitches well and holds the Nationals in check for most of the game, that might make the over risky, but we certainly like it more than the under here.
Nationals vs. Pirates Prediction: Pirates -1.5 (+125), over 8.5 runs (-110)
Nationals vs. Pirates Odds
The Pirates are the betting favorites with -160 moneyline odds, while the Nationals’ moneyline is at +140.
The Pirates are laying -1.5 runs on the spread at +125 odds, while the Nationals are getting +1.5 runs at -150 odds.
The over/under in this game is set at 8.5 runs with -110 odds on the over and the same -110 odds on the under.
Nationals vs. Pirates Key Matchups
Here are the key matchups that could decide Nationals vs. Pirates.
Josiah Gray vs. patient hitters
As noted above, Gray has struggled mightily with his command over his last 6 starts, walking more hitters (21) than he has struck out (20). That is part of the reason we give the strong edge to Mitch Keller in the pitching matchup and picked the Pirates in our Nationals vs. Pirates prediction.
Now Gray faces a lineup that is among the most patient in baseball. The Pirates are 7th in the league at drawing walks with a 9.2% walk rate. Fortunately for Gray, Pittsburgh’s best player at drawing walks is Andrew McCutchen (15.9%), who is currently on the IL. Jack Suwinski (14.8%) and Connor Joe (10.6%) are also among the team leaders Gray will have to contend with today.
Pittsburgh may not have the strongest lineup, but if Gray can’t take command of his command and puts a lot of men on base, it’s going to be the latest in a string of bad outings. It will also likely be a short outing, which compounds the problem because of Washington’s poor bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, that is another reason we like the over in this game, particularly if Gray has to leave early and the Nationals’ relievers have to retire more than 9 hitters. Washington has one of the weakest bullpens in the big leagues.
Their bullpen ERA of 5.08 is 27th in the league, while advanced metrics like their 5.01 FIP have them dead last. Pittsburgh’s bullpen ERA is a full point better at 4.04, good for 16th in the league, while their 4.07 FIP is 12th.
If Keller can go deep into this game and Gray gets chased early, then Pittsburgh will have an even more significant pitching advantage. That is just another reason to feel good about taking the Pirates and laying -1.5 runs.
Nationals vs. Pirates Starting Lineups (Projected)
Nationals Starting Lineup
SS CJ Abrams (L)
RF Lane Thomas (R)
1B Dominic Smith (L)
DH Joey Meneses (R)
C Keibert Ruiz (S)
LF Travis Blankenhorn (L)
3B Carter Kieboom (R)
2B Michael Chavis (R)
CF Alex Call (R)
Pirates Starting Lineup
CF Ji-Hwan Bae (L)
LF Bryan Reynolds (S)
3B Ke’Bryan Hayes (R)
DH Jack Suwinski (L)
C Endy Rodriguez (S)
RF Joshua Palacios (L)
SS Liover Peguero (R)
1B Alfonso Rivas (L)
2B Jared Triolo (R)