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

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, 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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