First Pitch: The Road to Contending Goes Through Milwaukee
For the past two years I’ve had the same thought about the Milwaukee Brewers and what they say about the Pirates’ chances. The thought is always “if the Pirates can beat the Brewers, they’ll show they are legit this year”. Last year the Pirates went 4-11 against Milwaukee, including a 1-8 record in the final two months of the season. They went 3-6 on the road at Miller Park.
It would be accurate to say that if the Pirates could have beaten the Brewers, they would have been contenders. Make that 11-4 and the Pirates finish with 86 wins, which still would have missed the playoffs, but would have snapped the losing streak. But you could also play that game with San Diego (Pirates were 1-5 last year), the New York Mets (2-5), or the Dodgers (1-6). I was thinking about this last night, after the Pirates dropped their second game against Milwaukee. I was wondering if Milwaukee was the exception or the test.
The exception would be the team that the Pirates just can never seem to beat. Every team has an opponent like this, although probably not to the extreme of Milwaukee over the Pirates. The test would be a team that the Pirates have to beat to show they’re legit. Again, there are other teams the Pirates could have beaten last year to have a winning record. The problem with the Brewers is that they are a division rival, which means the Pirates play them much more often. And since the Pirates can’t seem to find a way to beat them on a consistent basis, that leads to a lot more losses than they’d get from any other team.
I looked at all of the other playoff teams from last season, wanting to see how they did against opponents in their own division. For the most part, everyone had a .500 record or better against their divisional opponents. Most of the teams had one divisional opponent who beat them in the season series, although the results were still close to .500. Here are the teams that made the playoffs who lost a season series against a divisional opponent.
New York Yankees: Lost 8-10 vs the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays did finish with 90 wins.
Detroit Tigers: Lost 8-10 vs the Cleveland Indians.
Texas Rangers: Lost 9-10 vs the Los Angeles Angels. Lost 8-11 vs the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won the division and the Angels won 89 games. Texas destroyed everyone else.
Atlanta Braves: Lost 8-10 vs the Washington Nationals. The Nationals won the division.
Cincinnati Reds: Lost 7-8 vs the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals won a Wild Card spot.
St. Louis Cardinals: Lost 7-8 vs the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There weren’t any 4-11 results in there. The teams who lost ended up losing by 1-2 games. They also mostly lost against teams who made the playoffs, or who had a really good season.
It’s only one season, but I’d have to think the results are the same each year. It took 88 wins to make the playoffs in the National League. Teams that win 88 games don’t go 4-11 against one team. The only way that’s possible is if that same team doesn’t lose a series against any other team in the league. The Pirates managed a win on Wednesday, but they’re off to a 1-2 start against the Brewers this year with 16 games remaining on the schedule. They’ve already gone 0-3 against the Dodgers, with three games remaining. That means they either need to find a way to beat the Brewers (or at least keep the series close to .500) or find a way to stay at .500 or better with every other team they face. It seems like it would be much easier to just find a way to beat Milwaukee. If they can find a way to play more like game three, and avoid playing games like the opener, they’ll have a good shot at that.
Also, say what you will about stealing signs in Miller Park, but last year three of the four wins against the Brewers came in Milwaukee. The Pirates were 1-5 at home. So it’s not an issue of Milwaukee potentially cheating. It’s an issue of the Pirates just continuing to struggle against the same team over and over. Even if they can’t win in Milwaukee, they could definitely help themselves by winning at home, which is where they should have their own advantage.
Links and Notes
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