At 76-54, the Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for the National League Central division lead with 32 games to play. They have the second-best record in the NL – deadlocked with the Cardinals and Dodgers – and the third-best winning percentage in all of Major League Baseball.
The Pirates have also gone 6-10 since sweeping the Marlins on Aug. 8, squandering a four-game advantage in the NL Central. During that 18-day span, Pittsburgh has gone from a favorite to win the division to a likely wild-card team, thus subjecting its breakthrough season to a one-game coin flip.
Gazing into the near future, the Bucs will play their next 12 games against the Cardinals and Brewers, with two series at home and two on the road. Thus, St. Louis has a golden opportunity to snatch back the division lead that was theirs until late July, when the Pirates won four of five in a showdown series at PNC Park. Milwaukee also serves as a threat, if only because of its track record of success against Pittsburgh over the past several years.
On the other hand, the Pirates have gone 8-5 against the Cardinals this season, including 5-2 at home, where next weekend’s three-game set will take place. Pittsburgh has nine wins in 13 games against the fourth-place Brewers, who will bring a 57-73 record into PNC Park on Tuesday night. Looking at it that way, the Pirates’ opponents over the next two weeks should inspire more confidence than worry.
As the four paragraphs above demonstrate, perspective is powerful. While some might choose to dwell on the Pirates losing the last two games of their weekend series against struggling San Francisco – with top starters Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett on the mound to boot – others will step back and view Pittsburgh’s 4-3 road trip to the West Coast as a net positive.
Zoom out further and you’ll see the Bucs with a 10-11 mark in August, but a 20-16 record since the All-Star break. Fact is, the Pirates have been essentially a break-even team (25-24) since their nine-game winning streak ended on July 2. As I’ve written in the past, winning slightly more than losing will be enough to at least clinch a playoff spot, if not win the division.
So the question becomes: can the Pirates win at least 17 of their last 32 games? The beauty of baseball is that we get a new bit of information nearly every day for six months. No other sport can match the constant ups and downs of a pennant race, and for the first time in a long time, Pittsburgh is experiencing a legitimate one.
No matter how you perceive the Pirates’ recent peformance, they’re in a great position. Let’s all try to enjoy it.