Even with their recent struggles, the Pittsburgh Pirates are still realistically within reach of a playoff spot. Because of the upcoming schedule, it will be obvious very soon whether or not the Pirates will spend October playing or on the couch.
Let’s get it out now: the Pittsburgh Pirates wasted a golden opportunity to get closer to first place in the National League Central division.
The day that the nine-game west coast trip began on July 21, the Pirates were two games out of first place after defeating the Colorado Rockies, 13-5. After six losses in the following eight games of the road trip, the Pirates now sit 5.5 games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs.
Obviously, it was a frustrating stretch. Prior to the road trip, the Pirates had won each of their last four series, compiling an 11-3 mark from July 3-20. That 11-3 mark came against the Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. Though the Cardinals and Phillies had losing records when they played the Pirates, Pittsburgh took care of them as easily as it did the more successful Brewers and Cubs.
The same cannot be said about how the Pirates fared on this recent road trip. The Rockies (60-46), who currently hold the second Wild Card in the N.L., are the only team with a winning record that the Pirates faced on the trip. The San Francisco Giants (40-66) and San Diego Padres (47-58) are in sell mode at the trade deadline, yet both took two of three from the Pirates over the past week. Pittsburgh failed to take advantage of its inferior opponents.
Despite those struggles against sub-.500 teams on the road trip, the Pirates will get plenty of chances to redeem themselves. The Pirates first 13 games in August are against losing teams (in order: Cincinnati Reds, Padres, Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays). Better yet, the first eight of those games take place at PNC Park, where the Pirates are 27-23.
The importance of this stretch cannot be overstated. Following this favorable stretch, the Pirates next 16 games are not as fortuitous. Meetings with the Brewers, Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Reds and Cubs follow. All of those teams except for the Cardinals and Reds are over .500, but the Cardinals are a game ahead of the Pirates in the standings. Eight of those 16 games are at home.
The opportunity is there for the Pirates to start the month strong. If Pittsburgh can win at least two games in the three game series with the Reds, Padres and Blue Jays and at least split a four-game set with the Tigers, it will go 8-5 over the stretch. Doing so would leave some room for error in the next 16 versus superior competition.
Conversely, a losing record against these inferior opponents will almost certainly spell doom for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Record vs the opponents
Just because the Pirates are playing teams with lesser competition does not mean that they will defeat them. Their records vary versus the upcoming below-.500 opponents in the next 13 games.
|Padres (47-58)||Tigers (47-56)||Blue Jays (49-56)|
The mark against the Reds is particularly alarming. From April 10-12, the first meeting between the division rivals, the Pirates were promptly swept. Pittsburgh took one game in a four-game set between the foes in Cincinnati from May 1-4. Tuesday’s game will be the first meeting between the Pirates and Reds since early May.
Following the 13-game stretch against losing opponents, the Pirates will play teams that they are more familiar with, but have still struggled with as a whole.
|Cardinals (52-53)||Dodgers (74-31)||Reds (42-63)||Cubs (56-48)|
Obviously, the success against the Cubs is buoyed by a 5-1 record at Wrigley Field this season and the 8-3 mark against the Brewers is largely due to the four-game sweep two weeks ago at PNC Park. The sweep against the Dodgers in Los Angeles came in the middle of a six-game losing streak in early May.
Opportunity for the taking
It’s up to the Pittsburgh Pirates to make a move on the N.L. Central these next two weeks. Failure to beat up losing teams could lead to back-to-back Octobers on the couch instead of on the field.
The best way to ensure a return to the postseason for the first time since 2015 is to start beating up teams with losing records. The Pirates are 24-28 versus teams with losing records, all in the National League. That has to change immediately. These next two weeks will shape the season, for better or for worse.