A.J. Burnett pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates

First Pitch: The Pirates Are Basically in the Playoffs Right Now

A.J. Burnett pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates lost a big game to the Cardinals tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

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.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Indy Eliminated; Bell and Meadows Power Their Teams On

**Austin Meadows is the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month For August

**Jason Creasy is the Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month For August

**Minor League Schedule: Power Turns to Heredia For Pivotal Game Three

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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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  • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.carnelutti Adrian Carnelutti

    I take a slightly different view in that I believe we have to win all the remaining series rather than individual games. 2-1 series wins are the key so losing the odd one, even by a big score is fine as long as we win the series.

    • buster09

      For what it is worth,I heard Cal Ripken say the other day that in a stretch run,no one game or series is a ” big ” game. You just go out and play your games the way you have been and the wins will take care of themselves,just as they have all season. It appears to me that many fans just aren’t going to grasp that concept. However,if you saw the Pirates dugout last night,it appeared to me that most of the players reactions I could see were pretty much in line with that thinking. Just one other observation : it also appeared to me that Kyle Farnsworth is throwing the ball a lot better than Brian Morris,and I am not talking about the results.

  • emjayinTN

    The Pirates are not in the playoffs today and they still have work to do. I realize they are 22 over .500 and the Diamondbacks and Nationals are both 2 games over .500, and all have 22 games to play. Both of those teams have struggled all year and have never been able to put a long winning streak together, but I have seen stranger things happen in past years with other teams who were a veritable lock, and blew it down the stretch. The Pirates have achieved a lot and now would be a great time to wipe out the thoughts of the past two years. They have the talent, but the pitching seems to have gone in the tank lately – not all of them, but enough of them to make a big difference.

    I look at trends and I like the fact that the Bucs are 3 games better than they were at the AS Break – that’s a key for me – can the team maintain that record that they built up over the first 3.5 months of the season? It is bothersome to watch experienced pitchers start a game with a walk and throw the first 6 of 7 pitches well out of the strike zone. The bullpen twosome of Bryan Morris and Jared Hughes? In the last 30 days Morris has an 8.44 ERA and Hughes a 6.10 ERA. I am glad that Grilli has returned, and that we picked up Farnsworth. Melancon and Watson over the past 30 days combined have pitched 21 innings with an 0.55 ERA, 19 K/1W. Mazzaro has pitched 17 innings in the last 30 days with a 1.06 ERA, but he has more walks than K’s. Wilson is up and down with a 2.70 ERA, and it seems as if he is being given a rest. I think we will see Gomez and Pimental getting more action and Morris and Hughes kept for positive or negative mop-up.

    • Bucco_Joe

      If Gomez and Pimental are forced to get more time, this team is in trouble. The starters need to pick it up and go a minimum of 7 innings.

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

    Just wanted to let everyone know that I received my Sports Illustrated, with Cutch and the ‘Bucs Stop Here’ on the cover on Wednesday. We all know what happened to Grilli after HE was on the cover!

    Wed night, Frankie gets hammered.
    Fri night, AJ gets hammered.


    Foo Jinx

  • leadoff

    Seems sad that they are going to limp into a playoff game, I don't know why the pitching is regressing at the rate that it is other than these guys are not 30 game pitchers. The bullpen seems to be falling apart also, could the Pirates feel like they got it made and the concentration is not there? I think when pitchers pitch the way the Pirate pitchers pitched yesterday, that tells me something. I don't have not liked Burnett going down the stretch, last year he was middle of the road going down the stretch and this year appears to be the same. Hurdle can't recognize when Burnett and Lirano are done, they are done, first inning or seventh inning and he can't get it with his bullpen pitchers, they can pitch 2 innings in April, but they can't in September, he just does not adjust very fast to his players abilities.


  • Andrew

    I understand the consternation, and the remaining strength of schedule is worrisome. However, I don’t believe the Pirates are in an unique position in terms of pitching, Wainwright’s last two starts were terrible, before last night Leake game up 4.75 runs over his previous 4 starts. Burnett was bad and Liriano’s the day before was the same, but I do not know how predictive a bad starts or three (Liriano)can be looking ahead.

    Make of this what you will.

    Joe Kelly: K% 15.5% BB 8.9% BABIP.299 LOB% 85.3% ERA 2.74 FIP 4.13 xFIP 4.23
    Jeff Locke: K% 17.5% BB 11.8% BABIP .279 LOB% 77.8% ERA 3.22 FIP 3.93 xFIP 4.18

    • buster09

      Add Lance Lynn and CC Sabathia to that list also Andrew.

    • leadoff

      Lirano and Burnett have had bad starts before, but not as frequently, the bullpen is wearing down.
      Hurdle IMO, can’t manage these players the same in Sept. as he did in April and May, Mazzaro gave him a very good inning, so he pitched him another, something he could do well in May, but struggled to do in Sept. Hughes pitched a perfect inning, but got shelled when he was sent out for that 2nd inning.
      IMO, the Larousa way is the way to go, if you use a pitcher for 1 hitter and he gets the job done, don’t be afraid to remove him, Hurdle is dead set on relievers giving him 2 innings, something they rarely can do this time of year.

  • https://profiles.google.com/106508220943703406151 Kevin Anstrom

    The remaining games are probably a bit more important than the All-Star game. Basically playing for home field advantage. Championships are not won in Sept.

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