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

Author: 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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