Sep 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez (59) and left fielder Starling Marte (6) celebrate with teammates after defeating the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates have no time to breathe as pennant race continues

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have won six of their past seven games under the most pressurized conditions the franchise has encountered in two decades. Following a desultory sweep in St. Louis last weekend, the Bucs won all three games at contending Texas and took three of four from the rebuilding Cubs.

What’s their reward for such results in the clutch? Raised stakes and more anxiety.

As tempting as it is to pull a Ron Burgundy and say, “Neat-o, gang!”, the reality is that this breakthrough season, this payoff for 20 years wandering in the desert, could be capsized by one sub-par performance in the National League wild-card game.

I’ve seen it written even on this very site that “this city deserves more than a one-game playoff.” Screw the city, this team deserves more than that. Unfortunately, unless they’re able to overcome the Cardinals – and possibly the Reds – for the NL Central title, nine postseason innings may be all the Pirates get.

One could argue that the Bucs would have a better-than-average chance of winning said play-in game, especially if it’s at PNC Park and Francisco Liriano (or even Gerrit Cole?) is on the mound to start. I would tend to agree, but I’d like their chances even better if Liriano, Cole, A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton all get to pitch at least once in a five-game series.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m bullish on the Bucs to make a deep October run, not simply knock on the playoff door and run cowering into the bushes when it opens. With Pittsburgh’s magic number for clinching a wild-card berth down to six, higher aspirations are in order.

Incubating those autumn dreams means continuing to take advantage of summer’s last days. The tepid Padres are in Pittsburgh for a four-game set before the recently-staggering Reds roll in this weekend, ushering in the fall season. Five or six more wins during that stretch will put the Bucs in prime position to skip the made-for-TV wild-card spectacle and set their rotation for an actual series.

Of course, even winning all seven home games this week guarantees nothing with the Cardinals taking on Colorado and Milwaukee during the same timeframe. The only certainty is that the end of the 162-game marathon is in sight, and a bad couple of days can put six months’ worth of hard work at risk.

Baseball’s everyday grind can be brutal, but it can be equally as forgiving. If you don’t like what you did today, or a unlucky break got the better of you, there’s always tomorrow.

But now those tomorrows are running short. What happens over the next week could easily determine if the 2013 Pirates are in the empire business this October, or just another group of postseason passersby.

Tags: Pittsburgh Pirates

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