First Pitch: The Week the Pirates Clinch the Playoffs?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have 13 games remaining this year. The easiest part of their remaining schedule will take place over the next four games, with a four game homestand against the San Diego Padres. After that they finished with six of nine games against the Cincinnati Reds, with a three game road series against the Chicago Cubs sandwiched in between.

Last week I wrote about how this would be a tight race, and how the Pirates could stay in the race for the division thanks to that easy schedule. At the time the Pirates were down by one game in the NL Central. After taking three of four against the Chicago Cubs, they find themselves tied. Here are the current standings, as well as what to look forward to this week.

NL Central

The Pirates move into first place thanks to Justin Morneau's go ahead RBI against the Cubs on Sunday. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates move into first place thanks to Justin Morneau’s go ahead RBI against the Cubs on Sunday. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates and Cardinals are tied for first, and both are 3.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates have four games at home against San Diego, while the Cardinals have four games on the road against Colorado. That’s not an easy place to play, and it shouldn’t be easy for some of the Cardinals starting pitchers who are struggling (especially Lance Lynn). This could be a chance for the Pirates to gain a game in the standings.

The Reds get three games on the road against Houston, so don’t expect them to fall too far back. The gap between the Reds and the Pirates will still come down to those final six games. The first three are in Pittsburgh at the end of the week.

NL Wild Card

Outside of the Reds, the only team that has a realistic shot at the Wild Card is Washington. However, the Nationals don’t have a realistic shot of passing the Pirates. The Pirates have a magic number of six until they clinch the playoffs. Washington has three games against the Braves this week, which should be a tough stretch. They follow that up with four against the Marlins, also at home. Considering the Pirates play the Padres at home, and the Nationals get the Braves, I could see the Pirates clinching the playoffs by the weekend.

From there they need to make sure they beat out Cincinnati for home field in the Wild Card game. Of course winning the division would be a much better alternative.

Number Two Seed

The Pirates and Cardinals passed the Los Angeles Dodgers today for the number two seed in the National League. That is significant, as it means the winner of the NL Central would get home field advantage over the Dodgers if the season ended today. That would be big for the Pirates, since they went 0-3 in Los Angeles, and 2-1 at home against the Dodgers.

The Dodgers start a ten game road trip this week, taking the first four at Arizona, followed by three in San Diego. That’s not the most difficult schedule, although the Dodgers haven’t exactly dominated those teams. They’re 7-8 against Arizona, although they did sweep them on the road in July, and took two of three last week at home. They’re 4-3 on the road against the Padres, and 9-7 on the season. They swept them at home at the end of August.

Los Angeles should lose a few games, although I think they’ll keep it close this week.

Taking the Top Seed

The NL Central teams are also two games back from Atlanta, so the top seed in the NL is still in play. However, Atlanta has a fairly easy schedule this week, with three against the Nationals and three against the Cubs on the road. They finish the season next week with seven at home against the Brewers and Phillies. Taking the top seed is secondary to actually winning the division, although the good thing about aiming for the best record in the league is that you take care of everything else when you achieve that goal.

EDIT: I previously had written that two division teams can’t play each other in the divisional series. That was true under the old playoff system, but it is something MLB changed under the new system. So the Pirates could play the Reds or Cardinals if it lined up that way.

Links and Notes

**The latest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast is out, featuring special guest Rocco DeMaro: P3 Episode 19: Catching Up With Rocco DeMaro

**We didn’t have too many articles over the weekend. That’s for two reasons. A big reason was that I have been setting up the 2014 Prospect Guide, which has me on a weird 7-noon sleep schedule. I don’t know why I find it easier to work on the book overnight, but it always happens that way. I’ve also been getting ready for the season ending minor league reports, which will start this week. Instructs also starts this week, followed by games next week, so I should have some game reports during that time.

**Liriano Flirts with History, Pirates Win 3-2

Tim Williams

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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  • CalipariFan506

    I’m not so sure we couldn’t play a division team in the divisional round. That used to be the rule. But with the new wild card I believe it changed. Baltimore won the AL wild card last year but still played the top seed Yankees from the same division.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      You’re right. I saw a few people talking about how they couldn’t play each other, but I guess that was like me thinking about the old rules.

  • http://allmyforeparents.blogspot.com Israel P.

    If the Pirates split with Cincinnati and take four of seven from the Padres-Cubs, they finish ahead of the Reds.

    But consider the ignominy – lose a division playoff game and then lose to the Reds in the Wild Card. Pity the poor Cardinals’ fans.

  • leadoff

    I refuse to look that far ahead, I am worried about how they are going to beat Cashner tonight. I look at it the Pirate way, one game at a time.
    I do not agree with people that think the Cubs are a patsy because of their record.
    They have a team ERA of around .450, but against the Pirates they are around .216.
    Everything is about gameday matchups, the Reds who do have a manager that runs the show, good or bad that is the way it is, has his pitchers on a 6 day rotation, something that would be better for the Pirates to do, if Liriano is on 6 days, you might not be talking about him going 7, he might have gone 9. The Pirates should not be afraid to pitch a Cumpton and give the starters an extra day of rest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

      The Reds had 3 off days mixed into their remaining 17 game schedule so a 6 day rotation kind of made sense for them to keep the same rotation order.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      You have to balance out the need to keep winning games for post-season positioning with the objective of lining up Liriano-Burnett for the first 2 playoff games. The way it lines up right now, it’ll be Burnett-Locke-Cole-Morton against the Pads, Frankie-Burnett-Locke against the Reds. The wildcard game is 2 days after the final game, Oct 1. Basically if no one skips a turn, Frankie is on schedule to pitch that game or game 1 of the NLDS.

      I don’t see anyone other than the 5 guys we have no pitching the remaining 13 games. Nor should they.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

        I think the current rotation order is Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Morton then Cole. You are correct though that Liriano lines up right now to be able to play on either the 30th (potential division decider game) or October 1st Wild Card game. Burnett would also be available for the October 1st wild card game.
        .
        Cole’s last start of the season will be in Chicago (Tuesday 24th) so in theory he would be available to start or pitch for the division decider or wild card game (although I doubt he would since I’m sure the Pirates would like to give him some time off and get at least one start for him in the NLDS (if needed).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    Wow that Reds loss had to be brutal yesterday for Reds fans. Luckily for them it’s only one game. The Reds appear to be very beatable now that they’ve cooled off from their hot streak.
    .
    The Padres have been playing decent baseball lately so I don’t think they will be easy at all. I could see 2-2 which won’t be so bad as the Cards may go 2-2 also. Still, if the Pirates take 3 out of 4, I think they’ll end up winning the division.

    • leadoff

      I don’t know if the Reds will get over this one. If it were the Pirates I don’t know if I would.
      Another game where the manager could have made a move that might have prevented a loss. Dusty left Duke in to pitch to a right handed power hitter, bad move. Home run. My money says he does not do that again. You would think he saw enough of Duke in Dukes career to know better.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

        True about Duke, the thing was, it wasn’t just Duke that let the Reds down. The Reds were up 5 to 1 and the 4 pitchers before Duke gave up runs that let the Brewers tie it at 5. I’m not sure what Baker’s bullpen looked like in the 9th. Baker may have had no option but to leave Duke in there.
        .
        In any case I like that the Reds are struggling a bit now, which might give the Pirates a good chance to win 3 or 4 of the 6 remaining games against the Reds.
        .
        It seems like it’s now down to the Cards and Bucco’s. Who will blink first.

  • emjayinTN

    Well stated leadoff – if the Nats had cooperated and played like they did for almost 90% of the season, the playoffs would not even be in question today. When the Bucs had 58 wins I stated that 30 more wins would be what it would take for the Pirates to advance to the playoffs. We are only one away from that 88th win; but, it is possible for the Nats to finish with 91 wins if they win out. But, with only 13 games remaining the Pirates have achieved their largest margin of games over .500 at 25 games after the win yesterday.

    The Cards, Reds, Braves, and Nats all started the season as a few years ahead of the Pirates developmentally. However, the emergence of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jordy Mercer, Russell Martin, and the continued excellence of ‘Cutch and Alvarez, and the adds of Morneau and Byrd have made up the ground and the Pirates can compete with any of them and have done so very successfully in 2013. At this point in the season they may be better and more healthy than some of the others

    • smurph

      On August 8, the Pirates were 70-44. Anyway, if the Pirates win their next 7 games, they eliminate the Reds from the division. That won’t happen, but the chances of the Reds catching both the Pirates and St. Louis are now very slim. It would be nice to turn this into a 2-team race, which the Pirates could do if say they take 3 of 4 from the Pads and 2 of 3 from the Reds.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

        Even if the Cardinals go 7 and 6. The Reds would have to go 11 and 1 to win the division (10 and 2 to tie the Cards). They have to sweep the Astros and the Mets, and take 5 out of 6 against the Pirates OR the Cardinals have to tank the rest of the season and win only 4 or 5 more games.

        Reds can only hope to get home advantage in the wild card game which likely means they need to win at least 4 out of the 6 games against the Pirates, win 5 out of 6 against the Astros/Mets and hope the Pirates only win 4 out of 7 against the Padres/Cubs.
        .
        So the Reds are hoping the Pirates go 6 and 7, which may as well be the Pirates tanking it. 7 wins will mean either division decider game or home field in the wild card game. 8 or 9 more wins will likely win the division.

  • michaelbro8

    I expect the Cards to have a tough time in Colorado. And just reading about all of this is almost unbelievable !