The Pittsburgh Pirates need to not only win the NL Central…

The Pirates picked up win no. 82 on Monday, another stepping stone toward a playoff berth that’s becoming more and more likely with each passing day. On the morning of Sept. 11, everything looks pretty good at the moment as indicated by the current NL Central standings.

  • St. Louis Cardinals: 84-60, 99.8 percent playoff odds
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 83-61, 99.1 percent playoff odds
  • Cincinnati Reds: 82-64, 98 percent playoff odds
PNC Park

The more games played at PNC Park, the better the chances are for the Pirates in the playoffs. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Furthermore, when it comes to earning a spot in the one-game Wild Card game, the Pirates are in line for a home game against the Cincinnati Reds. Obviously that can change in a matter of two days, especially when the Reds come to PNC Park next week, but what likely won’t change are the teams participating. Only two other teams besides those currently in playoff spots own records over .500, one of those being Arizona which is 72-71 and essentially no threat. On the other hand, Washington is 7-3 in its last 10 games and have closed to six games behind the Reds for the final playoff spot — meaning seven games back of the Pirates.

But back to the division, which is where the Pirates’ focus should be lasered upon with only 18 games left to play in this regular season. In all reality, the Central is wide open between the three teams. Two games separate first and third place and despite the sweep St. Louis dealt Pittsburgh this past weekend, the Pirates are still very much “in it”.

Most importantly, winning the division would be a crucial stepping stone toward what the Pirates’ goal for their standing on Sept. 30 should be: second-place in the National League.

First of all, first place may be rather lofty for this team to look at with the Atlanta Braves sitting at 87-57. A more realistic goal would be vaulting the Cardinals and Dodgers, who the Pirates each trail by a game.

This is important because if the Pirates can earn the NL’s two-seed, it would guarantee the Pirates home-field advantage in at least the National League Divisional Series. Unless something crazy happens in Atlanta, the Pirates in the two-seed would leave the Dodgers in third place at the end of the season and pit the two teams in a cross-country series.

If the Pirates have any say in the proceedings of a series between themselves and the Dodgers, you had best believe the Bucs would rather play the Dodgers at most three times at PNC Park than thrice in Chavez Ravine. Moving on, if one of the Wild Card teams upsets Atlanta, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility with the talent levels of Cincinnati and St. Louis, the Pirates would also have home field in the National League Championship Series.

Against all of the teams likely bound for the 2013 Playoffs, the Pirates have had success against each one.

  • St. Louis: 10-9
  • Cincinnati: 7-6 (six games still remaining)
  • Atlanta: 3-4
  • Los Angeles: 2-4

While the Pirates are below .500 against Atlanta and Los Angeles, it is imperative to remember that the Pirates took three-of-four from Atlanta in early April after the Braves started 12-2, and also took two-of-three from Los Angeles in July shortly before the Dodgers ripped off a stretch that saw them go 40-10 in 50 games.

More imperative to remember, though, is that those series wins came at home. On the road, the Pirates were swept when they visited each of the other two teams.

Overall in 2013, the Pirates have fared much better at PNC Park than they have playing on the home fields of their opponents. Pittsburgh owns a 45-25 record at home this season and a 38-36 mark on the road.

To be fair, the Pirates have been an excellent road team relative to the rest of the league this season. Only three teams have 40 wins away from home this season (Boston, Texas, Dodgers) and the Pirates’ mark serves as the sixth-best in the league. After the Pirates and the Oakland A’s at 36-34, no other team is over .500 on the road.

But back to the point. If anything has been proven this season when it comes to the win and loss columns, playing at PNC Park certainly doesn’t hurt the Pirates’ chances of success in the post-season. The more games the Pirates can set themselves up to play at PNC Park in the post-season, the better the Bucs’ chances are of advancing far into October during their first post-season run since 1992.

Nate Barnes

Author: Nate Barnes

Nate covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects, and is an English Writing major at the University of Pittsburgh. Nate has covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report, and covered Pitt Men's Basketball, Duquesne Men's Basketball, and Pitt Baseball beats prior to this summer. You can find Nate on Twitter @NateBarnes_ where he'll keep you updated on each and every time Clint Barmes breaks up a no-hit bid with one-out in the third inning of ballgames.

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  • CalipariFan506

    To me no matter what happens in the playoffs I will get more satisfaction if the Pirates just finish the season how they have played to this point. Like winning 11 of the final 18 or so. I don’t want to see the pitching fall apart like the last two seasons.

    Anything can happen in the playoffs,. But I want to be able to trust that Hurdle and the coaching staff are the guys that can get us there when the talent is good enough. This team may be different than the past two talent wise, but I still have a lot of questions about Hurdle and he can answer some of them in the next three weeks.

  • leadoff

    The schedule would suggest that the Pirates are going to have a problem just getting a wild card birth. Washington only has 3 games with the Cards and the rest is not much of a test, they could win their next 15 that would put them around 90-93 wins, that would mean the Pirates are going to have to figure out a way to win 10 or 11 more out of 19.

    • leadoff

      Should have said they could win 15 more!

      • smurph

        Nationals will win 15 more games? I’ll give you 15 to 1 odds on that.

        • leadoff

          Forget it, I forgot they have 3 with Atlanta and 3 with St.Louis and only 17 to go. The Pirates will have to give it to them to lose the wild card race.

    • SteveW

      If Washington goes 15-3 for their last 18 – which they are not – then the Pirates would need to win 7 more out of the 17 remaining games to finish ahead of them. Six wins to tie.

  • https://www.facebook.com/brian.nuckols.31 Brian Nuckols

    Nate, I must say I detest your diction.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Ibid78 ibid

      Lame.

  • rburgh

    Obsessing about the Bucs’ playoff positioning at this point is crazy, IMHO. Unless the formula that has visibly shown consistent progress over the last 3 years (and was producing results for a couple of years before that without visible ML results) suddenly stops working, this franchise is going to be a consistent contender for several years.

    Would I like the Bucs to win the division and get home field advantage for at least one playoff series? Hell, yes! Will I lose sleep if they end up as the wild card and lose the play-in game? Hell, no! This has been a satisfying year, in many ways. But there is still a lot of talent percolating through the system, and I am confident that a fair amount of it will turn into more impact players.

    Getting into the playoffs entitles a team to a lottery ticket. Each division winner has to win three series to be World Champions; each wild card has to win a one-game playoff followed by the same three series, with the disadvantage of never having home-field advantage.

    Investing too much energy in the current season is not my style; I would rather hope that the Bucs can put together a consistent run of contention like they did from the late 60′s through 1980. If they do that, I am confident that they will punch one or two of those tickets.