Pittsburgh … we’re here.
No, I haven’t suddenly turned into Bray Wyatt (wrestling is still real to me, dammit!), rather it’s the most important week for the Pirates in the 2016 season. Before heading into the All-Star break, the Pirates travel to St. Louis for four games before hosting the Chicago Cubs for three entering the mid-summer classic.
Make or break time for the Pirates.
Coming off a series sweep of the Oakland Athletics where the Pirates earned come-from-behind wins in all three games, the Pirates have the momentum in their favor, as they hit the .500 mark for the first time since June 16 after taking four out of five games on an American League west-coast swing.
Meanwhile the Cardinals, who had a a three-game sweep of their own, are coming off a sub-.500 month. June was the first month that the Cardinals had a below .500 record since June 2012.
The Pirates are 5-4 against the second-place Cardinals this year, and have a chance to move into second place in the National League Central behind the almighty Chicago Cubs with their upcoming four-game series against the red birds.
Speaking of the Cubs, they are still seeing the Mets in their dreams after the shellacking the Metropolitans gave to Jon Lester on Sunday. Chicago, who was swept by New York over the weekend, still holds a 10-game lead in the division, despite posting a 5-10 record in its past 15 games.
It’s a minor slump for the trendy World Series pick, but if the Pirates want any chance at all of the division, they have to show out in a big way against both the Cardinals and Cubs (1-8 on the year) this week.
What’s showing out? Say, 6-1 or 5-2 at the very worst. Even 4-3 would be slightly encouraging, but what does it really change? Anything worse than that, the Pirates have some decisions to make.
While our Jose Negron will get into detail on what approach the Pirates should make at the deadline later on this week on PSN, if the Pirates fail to win the week, they could become semi-sellers at the deadline, meaning they keep the core of the roster in place, but move players who will be free agents at the end of the season (Mark Melancon, David Freese, etc.).
Look, the Pirates aren’t going to win the division. I feel very comfortable in saying that. And it seems that the FanGraphs projections agree.
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Yes, it’s only July 4 and the midway point of the season just went by last week, but unless there is an epic meltdown or unforeseen injuries, the Cubs are running away with the division. That leaves the wild card, which the Pirates are 2-1 in the past three years against pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta.
What’s the best-case scenario for the Pirates if they happen to sneak into the wild card game? Well, they need the Cardinals to make it, too. Besides that, do you have faith that the Pirates could beat Max Scherzer (Nationals), Noah Snydergaard (Mets), Jose Fernandez (Marlins), Bumgarner (Giants) or Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) in a one-and-done game? I don’t, especially with the Pirates don’t have any semblance of an ace to throw out there (Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon won’t get the nod, folks).
As it stands now, the Dodgers and Mets are the two wild card teams now, with the Cardinals and Marlins right about the Pirates.
Maybe the Pirates could prove me wrong in the game, but if I’m a betting man, I’m taking the ace-caliber pitcher to mow them down, especially with what we’ve seen from them so far this season.
The seven-game inter-division week they have, plus the three-game set against the Nationals coming out of the break will be telling for the Pirates. We’ll see if they can take the momentum they earned against the lowly Athletics and use it as a jolt to save their season against World Series contenders.