The Cardinals took a half game lead in the NL Central today.

First Pitch: The Most Important Two Weeks of the Year

The Cardinals took a half game lead in the NL Central today.

The Cardinals took a half game lead in the NL Central today.

The next two weeks are going to be the biggest weeks in the NL Central playoff race. This is something that gets said before every series between the Cardinals and Pirates, Reds and Pirates, or Cardinals and Reds. It’s true for all of those matchups, because this is a tight division race, and every game counts. But the next two weeks are going to be the biggest two weeks of the series, and that’s not hyperbole at all.

The Pirates play the Cardinals six times in that stretch. They also play Milwaukee six times.

Aside from the six games against the Pirates, the Cardinals play the Reds six more times, after beating them tonight and taking a half game lead in the NL Central.

The Reds have three games in Colorado, which is a tough place to play, and three games against the Dodgers.

The most important thing for the Pirates is to win. That’s pretty obvious, but no matter what happens with the Reds and the Cardinals, the Pirates will be in this race if they keep winning. They possibly have the best schedule of the three teams during this stretch. The games against the Cardinals look rough on paper, but the Pirates have played well against St. Louis this year (8-5 record). In previous years the six games against Milwaukee would be circled on the calendar, but the Pirates have reversed their losing ways against the Brewers, going 9-4 so far this year. It will help that Milwaukee is without Ryan Braun for all of those games.

While it’s obvious that the Pirates can stay in the race by winning, they might get some help by St. Louis and Cincinnati battling it out between each other. If one team dominates, that makes it a two team race, assuming the Pirates keep winning. If both teams tread water and exchange wins, then the Pirates have a chance to pull ahead of both teams with a good two weeks.

There’s going to be a lot of scoreboard watching in that span. Those games between the Cardinals and the Reds are going to be just as important as the games that Pittsburgh will be playing against Milwaukee.

It’s going to be a tight race until the end. Even if the Pirates go 4-2 against each of their opponents, and the Reds and Cardinals split, that only gives the Pirates a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Cardinals. But they’d have a good chance of adding to that lead or maintaining it following that last Cardinals game. They would have three games on the road in Texas, followed by eight at home against the Padres and Cubs. If the Pirates take back the division lead, then that home stretch would be a prime opportunity to either expand that lead, or at least maintain it if the Cardinals also go on a winning streak.

The division won’t be decided in the next two weeks, but the final standings will be heavily influenced. It starts this week with six games at home. The Pirates have a .656 winning percentage at PNC Park, which is the second best winning percentage in the majors at home, trailing only the Atlanta Braves. That’s a good way to start this important stretch.

Links and Notes

**The newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast is up: P3 Episode 18: Prospect Talk With Pirates Farm Director Larry Broadway.

**Prospect Watch: Pimentel Struggles in Latest Start; Dickerson Hits 16th Homer

**Frank Coonelly: Replay System May Not Increase Game Length

**Kendrys Morales Claimed By an Unknown Team

**Top Performers: Glasnow’s Outing One of the Most Dominant of the Year

**Top Performers: Buckner Showing Off His Power; Hanson Heating Up in Altoona

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates2 Lose Badly to Tigers in Playoff Opener

**Minor League Schedule: Taillon Makes Fifth AAA Start Tonight

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • skliesen

    Meaningful September baseball games at PNC! How AWESOME!

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Amen!

      • NorCal Buc

        Hallelujah, brothers!

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: The Pirates have played the whole season with a chip on their shoulder, and that is good. 32 games left with 76 already in the win column. 3 wins to equal last year’s record, 5 wins to assure a .500 season, and 12 wins (IMO) to reach 88 which I see as a safe number for the last team in the playoffs. Win the NL Central or finish as the 1st or 2nd Wild Card is good with me, and we have the horses to make the run – the Rotation led by Burnett, Liriano, and Morton and the Bullpen is rested with some very fine arms such as Melancon, Wilson, Watson, Gomez, Mazzaro, Johnson, and a guy by the name of Grilli who has been rehabbing well. McCutchen and Alvarez are ahead of their stats from last year; Walker is doing well and he was not even active at this time last year; Marte, Martin, and Mercer are all improvements on 2012, and part-timers Clint Barmes, Jose Tabata, Gaby Sanchez, Tony Sanchez, and Harrison are all doing well.

    If we cannot make it, it will not be the result of failing to add – as I said, this is the same group that got us 22 games over .500 already, now all we have to do is finish.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Brilliant thoughts Emjay- I agree completely with everything you said

      • emjayinTN

        Thank you for the compliment. This 2 week period is important, with 3 at home vs Mil, 3 at home vs StL, then on the road for 3 at Mil, 3 at StL, and 3 at Tex. Then an 11 game home stand – 4 Cubs, 4 S.D., 3 Reds. This first week is key, but the 11 game homestand later in Sep is the nuts for this team in 2013, IMO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.dimmick.33 Steve Dimmick

    it’s a good thing these first two series are home

  • https://profiles.google.com/100508923100437214310 William Beckley

    Re: schedules, the Cardinals schedule is my greatest concern going forward. Yes, they play the Reds 6 more times, but I can tell you that Reds fans feel the same way about the Cards as Pirates fans did against the Brewers before this year: helpless and hopeless. The Cards are 9-4 against the Reds this year, 13-6 over their last 19, and have won 6 straight series’ against the Reds going back to last July. In addition, the Cards last game against a team currently above .500 is the final game of this 2 week stretch against the Pirates on Sept. 8. After that they play only the Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, Brewers, Nationals, Cubs. It’d be tough to argue the Cards don’t have the best season-ending schedule by a fair margin.

    • Kevin_Young

      Well that’s disappointing.

  • Andrew

    It was refreshing to see another team/manager with less than optimal bullpen usage. There is an opportunity there that the Pirates/Hurdle could utilize, (use best reliever in highest leverage spots), but I am not hopeful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim…I would like to complain about the use of obscene pictures on this website.

    Pls take down that bird picture AT ONCE!

    Thank You

    Foo

  • CalipariFan506

    I still think the Cardinals starting pitching is going to let them down to some degree. It’s up to the Pirates to capitalize on it. Lynn usually fades, and is. Westbrook was struggling and now is hurt. Lyons has been lousy for the most part. Kelly and Miller are coming up on innings highs.

  • https://profiles.google.com/106170227838985851056 Gary Martinelli Jr

    One point of disagreement Tim. I think the best case scenario would be for Cincinnati to dominate the remaining games with the Cards. The Reds are currently 3 games behind St. Louis. I think it’s best for the Reds to win 5 of the remaining 6. The Pirates are currently 3 games up on Cincinnati… winning the #1 Wild card seat by 6 or 7 games is meaningless, they still have to play in the 1-game series. Whether they get that spot by 1 game or 6 is irrelevant. The Pirates need separation from the Cardinals. The more the Cardinals lose, the better.

  • nikknice

    Lee young – I must ask, what is with signing all your comments with “foo”?

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