Aug 20, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (10) jogs off the field against the Atlanta Braves after the fifth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Get Just What They Need, A Return To Divisional Play

Nice of the MLB schedule-maker to give the Pittsburgh Pirates a day off following their slump-busting walk-off victory over Atlanta on Wednesday night.

After suffering through seven consecutive losses, the Bucs had the opportunity to savor a comeback win that just may have saved their season.

But sunrise Friday signaled a return to work for the Pirates, who at 65-62 are hanging on the periphery of the National League playoff pursuit. Over the next 17 days, Pittsburgh will play exclusively against divisional opponents, starting with three in Milwaukee versus the first-place Brewers.

The Pirates have fallen six games behind the NL Central leaders, so a weekend sweep is probably necessary to get back into the division race. Barring that improbable outcome, winning two out of three at Miller Park is of paramount importance to at least keep pace with fellow playoff challengers St. Louis (69-57), San Francisco (67-59) and Atlanta (67-61).

However, for as big as this series with the Brewers feels, even larger games are yet to come. Challenging for the Central title feels like a long shot at this point, so the upcoming six games against the Cardinals loom as even more impactful.

St. Louis possesses the NL’s top wild-card position at this time, giving the Pirates a slightly more feasible target when the Redbirds fly to town next week. A weekend set at PNC Park against the staggering Reds (61-67) follows, then Pittsburgh heads out to St. Louis and last-place Chicago to wrap this all-Central portion of the schedule.

The most a trailing team can ask for is to face the clubs they’re chasing, so this upcoming stretch is just what the Pirates need. After going an excruciating full week without a win, this could be their final opportunity to make something of this season.

The Bucs could still rally for a playoff berth even if they don’t blitz Milwaukee and St. Louis over the next two weeks, as consecutive series against the Cubs, Phillies and Red Sox in mid-September bring a chance to make up ground. If the Pirates can outplay the Braves and Giants the rest of the way, that will get the job done, too.

But the next two weeks represent Pittsburgh’s most direct route back to the postseason. The pressure is on as August winds to a close.

Tags: Pittsburgh Pirates

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