This weekend on the North Shore, the Pittsburgh Pirates will host the St. Louis Cardinals in The Biggest Series in PNC Park History(TM).
Wait, didn’t we just do this a month ago? Same opponent, same stakes, same site as the Bucs won four out of five against the Redbirds, usurping the National League Central lead in the process.
Turns out there’s much more to be done if the Pirates want their first division title since 1992.
I’m being facetious, of course. No one in their right mind declared the pennant chase over on Aug. 1. (Aug. 9 is a different story. Hey, we’re all new to this whole “contending baseball team” thing.) Still, after a 9-2 homestand that included the previous Biggest Series, you could be excused for thinking the 2013 Pirates had “turned the corner” or some other convenient sports cliche.
They haven’t played terribly since, but winning just one of six series has predictably allowed the Cardinals to slip a game ahead in the standings as of Friday. We’ve also heard quite a bit about the Pirates’ 26-26 record since a nine-game winning streak in late June, as if it somehow makes the Bucs lesser than what their record indicates.
Don’t believe the hype. The Pirates are 77-56 because they’ve earned it. It doesn’t matter that they’ve cooled in the season’s second half, any more than it matters how the Dodgers have gone from under .500 in June to running away with the NL West.
In fact, the lengthy nature of an MLB season can help the Bucs in September as much as it’s hurt them in August. Judging by their .579 winning percentage through 133 games, they’re just as likely to go 19-10 the rest of the way as they are to scuffle along at 14-15.
Trends matter – the uncertainty regarding young starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke limits my optimism about the Pirates’ continued run-prevention success – but baseball teams are what they are at this point of the year.
Pittsburgh and St. Louis are separated by one game with one month to go. For the most part, they are evenly matched. The hot August sun hasn’t been very kind to the Pirates, but they’re only a good weekend away from taking the NL Central lead right back.
If they do or they don’t, there’s still time left for more twists and turns. That’s life in a pennant race.