You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?
If you did, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 13-0 loss to the resurgent St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night was a cold splash of water to the face. The Bucs still lead the Redbirds by 1 1/2 games for the lead in the National League Central, but there are still 54 games to be played.
The Pirates (65-43) won the first four games of their midweek showdown with the Cardinals, taking a couple of blowouts in addition to two tight battles that previewed playoff baseball at PNC Park. Still, the Bucs weren’t exactly dominating their divisional rivals; it was a tough ask to sweep a rare five-game series against a team of the Cardinals’ quality.
So when St. Louis shook off a weeklong slump to pound out 17 hits, it sobered up both the Pirates and their euphoric fans, who probably needed it more than the players did. Indeed, a cold shower and a cup of coffee are in order, as there’s plenty of work to be done on the Bucs’ ongoing homestand.
With the Cardinals and the third-place Reds getting together this weekend, there is an opportunity for the Pirates to create more separation between themselves and their crimson-shirted pursuers. The stagnating Colorado Rockies (51-59) come to PNC Park for a three-game series next, then the Bucs get another shot at the last-place Miami Marlins before taking to the road next week.
Another three-gamer with Colorado in Denver follows before the Pirates and Cardinals come together again in St. Louis, so the next nine games are just as important as this week’s excitement. The ground gained from snagging four of five from the Cards would be lost if the Bucs can’t continue to build upon their 9-5 record since the all-star break.
The goal has been raised for the Pirates; no longer is a winning season or a wild-card berth enough to make this season a full success. This club has the potential to make some teams very uncomfortable in the playoffs, and raising the NL Central pennant would be a great boost to their chances of doing so.
The “biggest series in PNC Park history” is over. Time for the Bucs to take care of business against some of the NL’s lesser lights.