I’ve never gotten caught up in the results of individual games. The Pirates can lose, and within minutes I’ve forgotten about the game. Some tough losses stick with you for a little bit, but individual games don’t have a huge impact on me, positive or negative.
A big part of that is because I’ve been writing for so many years that this is more like a job than entertainment. When it was just a hobby, I didn’t have problems celebrating a win or reacting to a loss. But when I started making this my job I deliberately went in the other direction, to the point where I tried to stop being a Pirates fan completely just to be objective. I’ve since learned that you can pull for a team to do well, and still remain objective. Plenty of writers in all sports and in all cities do this well. Some don’t. I hope and feel I’m the former.
The thing is, that period where I stopped caring about individual games had an impact. Losses still don’t affect me, and neither do wins. The overall standings do, but it’s hard getting into the individual games. I think part of that is also that for so many years the Pirates were limited to 162 game seasons, with no chance of the playoffs. Individual games didn’t matter.
Now it’s different. Tonight I wrapped up a massive recap of the losing streak. It will go up right after win number 82. Maybe it was all of the research, and the writing over four days, but something hit me. This season is obviously different, but it doesn’t sink in until you stop and think about the losing streak. For so many years, individual games were meaningless. Playoff races were something you talked about in April, May, or June. Sometimes you talked about them in July. But each time it was “the Pirates are X games out of first, and if this keeps up…”.
Well it has kept up. Now we’re in September. The Pirates have a half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. They play them two more times this weekend. Either the Pirates will lead by 2.5 games, 0.5 games, or will be down by 1.5 games on Monday. The Pirates also have a two game lead over the Cincinnati Reds. They play the Reds six times in their last nine games of the season.
Forget the playoffs in October. The Pirates are basically in the playoffs right now. The next two games against the Cardinals aren’t your normal regular season games that we’ve seen for the last 20 years. It’s not a situation where if the Pirates lose, it’s just one of 162 games. These are huge. Win the division and you go on to a best of five series. Don’t win the division and you’ve got one game where you might be on the road. In short, you really want to win the division. And the Pirates would look a lot better with a 2.5 game lead over the Cardinals at the end of this weekend.
Looking at ESPN’s Hunt for October, the Pirates have the toughest remaining schedule. Their opponents combine for a .511 win percentage. The Cardinals face a combined .470 win percentage, and the Reds have a .485 opponents win percentage.
For so long I’ve viewed every individual game as something that has a 1/162 impact. But that’s not the case anymore. Tonight, for me, it clicked. You knew these games against the Cardinals and Reds were important, but that can also be an understatement. These are pretty much playoff games. When you look at the season as a whole, a win in April is the same as a win in September. But when you’re in September, then what’s done for the rest of the season is done. Now September wins are more important than anything.
The Pirates easily have the toughest division race in baseball right now. They have a half game lead over St. Louis, and Cincinnati is two behind. The Pirates are a lock for the playoffs in October in one form or another. But when it comes down to it, the playoffs start now for the Pirates, and every win counts.
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