Pirates Notebook: Doubleheader Presents Important Opportunity for NL Central

Fans outside PNC Park fill up to the streets trying to enter.
Fans outside PNC Park fill up to the streets trying to enter.

Fans packed the sidewalk in front of PNC Park’s home plate rotunda, backed up all the way onto Mazeroski Way trying to enter the ballpark for the most important day in Pittsburgh baseball since 1992.

And yes, it will be more important than Wednesday or Thursday or any single day the Pirates play at PNC Park until October. Getting two games against the St. Louis Cardinals and the opportunity to jump into the driver’s seat of the NL Central shows the day’s importance. When else will the Pirates have the chance to add two wins and hand their toughest division foe two losses on the same day?

Don’t confuse the importance of Tuesday’s doubleheader with the Pirates’ playoff chances. Pittsburgh enters the day owning a 95 percent chance to reach the postseason, combining the odds from Baseball Prospectus and Clay Davenport. Even taking two wins over the Cardinals would not drastically increase that number, because the wins do not come against a Wild Card contender.

However, the doubleheader is paramount for the team’s chances to make the real postseason. Pirates fans would not say so now, but finishing the season by losing the one-game Wild Card Playoff in St. Louis or Cincinnati would be a disappointing finish to the year. Winning the division would avoid that anticlimactic fate, putting the Pirates automatically in the 8-team tournament and quite likely giving them home field advantage in the National League Division Series.

One last set of numbers: By winning Monday, the Pirates increased their chances to finish in 1st place from 28.3 to 36.6 percent. Taking both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader would put the Bucs 1.5 games ahead of the Cardinals, give them baseball’s best record and likely put the odds of winning the Central around 50-50.

Bonus Notes!

  • Trade Market Roundup: While the Pirates lost out on former closer Brian Wilson, the team has been linked to Astros starting pitcher Bud Norris and White Sox right fielder Alex Rios. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan says Tyler Glasnow would fit the Norris deal (please no), while the White Sox have reportedly expressed interest in 1B/RF prospect Alex Dickerson.
  • Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on the trade market: “I think with 30 clubs, we’ve got a lot of general managers doing an incredible job of posturing and leveraging, and all of it’s going on… The challenge is real, there are some doors that literally are not opening and the asks really just don’t make sense for us.”
  • In Game 1, A.J. Burnett will pitch to Russell Martin at the 4:05 start. In Game 2, former Indianapolis battery-mates Brandon Cumpton and Tony Sanchez will take the pitcher and catcher spots. Cumpton will be the roster’s 26th player, as teams can now add a player for doubleheaders.
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