Way back when the Pittsburgh Pirates were added to the NL Central, they were robbed of a lot of natural rivalries. The Philadelphia Phillies being the big one. The Atlanta Braves, although that would have probably led to a 300% increase in Sid Bream highlights each season. It would even be easy to have a rivalry with the New York Mets or the Washington Nationals (especially if the Penguins/Capitals fans bring the Pittsburgh/Washington feud to baseball).
Yet the Pirates have been stuck in the NL Central without any real rivals. Part of that is the move. Another part is that it’s hard to have a rivalry when you’re horrible year after year. The Pirates beat up on the Astros and get destroyed by the Brewers. That has been the story for the last several years.
There have been some sparks. Take the Brewers, for example. The Dave Kerwin incident. Crying Braun. But it’s hard to tell if that’s a rivalry that started when Randall Simon started clubbing mascots, or just Pirates fans and the Pirates themselves being frustrated at constantly losing to the Brewers. They’re 6-4 this year, and it doesn’t seem like that hostility is there.
The Reds, on the other hand, have emerged as a potential rival. From a location standpoint, the two teams are close enough to be area rivals. Cincinnati is actually slightly closer to Pittsburgh than Philadelphia. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs have dominated the division in the past, and the Pirates and Reds are now emerging to take those two spots behind the Cardinals, who are always good. So you’ve got two young teams who have a shot at battling it out in meaningful games beyond the 2013 season.
Neither team owns the other team. This year the Pirates are 5-3 against Cincinnati. Last year the Reds won 11-7. The year before it was the Pirates winning 10-5. In 2010 it was 10-6 Cincinnati. So it’s not a situation like Milwaukee where there’s some bad blood, but it’s less interesting because you know that one team historically dominates the other team.
Then you’ve got the beanball wars. Aroldis Chapman hit Andrew McCutchen last year, and McCutchen wasn’t the same for the rest of the season. Brandon Phillips is always wanting retaliation against someone. On Monday night McCutchen was hit by Leake (probably accidental there), and Chapman buzzed a pitch by Neil Walker’s head (probably not as accidental). First pitch of Tuesday’s game: Charlie Morton hits Shin-Soo Choo. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds retaliate tomorrow, as they couldn’t tonight with the immediate warning by the umpire.
The beanball wars and the fact that these two teams are battling it out in the best division in baseball are key ingredients for a rivalry. The fact that neither team has a significant advantage over the other team helps. What could be interesting is if the two sides meet up in the Wild Card game. Currently that seems to be the consensus projection, and if the season ended today they’d be playing that game in Cincinnati.
Ultimately any sort of good rivalry is only possible if both teams are competitive. We wouldn’t be talking about this at all if the Reds or the Pirates were at the bottom of the division. Since they’re both competitive this year, it makes each game matter. As the season continues we’ll highlight those Cincinnati games, and especially the stretch at the end of the year where the Pirates play the Reds six times in their last nine games. The back and forth beanball wars only add to the fire.
Rivalries help make the game fun. Winning is always fun, but a win over a rival has a different feel than a win over someone like the Mariners or Angels who never play the Pirates. After years of going without a real rival, it seems the Pirates have found one in the Reds. We’ll see if that rivalry escalates tomorrow after today’s Pirates win — both on the scoreboard and in the beanball wars.
What do you think? Are the Reds the biggest rival for the Pirates? Do games against the Reds matter more to you than games against any other team?
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