First Pitch: Pirates Entering a Must-Sweep Series Against the Cardinals

Tomorrow morning I’ll be flying up to St. Louis to cover the three game series between the Pirates and the Cardinals. When I booked the trip, I figured it would be a big matchup, with the possibility that it could have an impact on the division. Last week it appeared that the Pirates could have a shot at leading the division by the end of the series.

And then Miller Park happened.

The Pirates, one of the best teams in baseball, went in to Milwaukee to face the Brewers, one of the worst teams in baseball. They proceeded to get swept in a series that you’d normally chalk up to “can’t predict baseball”, except you kind of can predict it. For whatever reason, the Pirates just can’t win in Milwaukee, no matter how good they are, or how bad the Brewers have been.

And so the Pirates now head to St. Louis trailing the Cardinals by 6.5 games. This is the first of two series remaining between the two teams, and the Pirates are now in a situation where they could beat the Cardinals in every single game the rest of the year and still be half a game back from first place. They’ll need help from other teams, and they will have to win against teams other than St. Louis.

The odds of them winning the division now are going to be low. They already had less than a 10% chance heading into tonight, with FanGraphs giving them their best odds at 7.9%. If they want any shot, they’re going to need a huge series this weekend against the Cardinals. Anything less than a sweep and they’ve got no shot, especially with the way the Cardinals have been dominating other teams this year.

But there’s another side to this. The Pirates have a healthy lead over the Cubs at the moment. Even after this sweep, they’re leading the Cubs by 4.0 games for home field in the Wild Card game. This seems to be a two-team race, since the Cubs have a 6.5 game lead over the Giants.

Even though the Pirates have a good lead, they’re still going to have to shut the door on Chicago. The two teams play seven more times this year, and each team plays St. Louis six times. The games against Chicago will be big, but every win is important outside of those games. The Pirates need to sweep the upcoming series just to have a shot at the division. But just winning the series will give them a continued edge over the Cubs. And that’s not going to be easy with the way St. Louis has played this year.

I’ll have live coverage from all three games of this important series. I’ve got an early flight, and early pre-game work tomorrow, so I’m cutting this short tonight by skipping to the daily notes.

**Please Welcome Ed Giles to Pirates Prospects. Today I announced our newest writer, Ed Giles, who you may know as @InClementeWthr on Twitter. Ed is going to be a great addition down the stretch as we work to increase our MLB coverage for the playoff stretch.

**Prospect Watch: Altoona Debut For Tyler Eppler Doesn’t Go Well. This is all bonus time for Eppler, as he should spend most of the 2016 season at the Double-A level.

**Corey Hart Will Remain on the Disabled List For the Remainder of the Season. This looks to be the end of Hart’s time with the Pirates, and possibly the end of his career.

**Injury Update: John Holdzkom Tosses First Bullpen Session. Ryan Palencer with an update on John Holdzkom, who seems unlikely to return to the majors this year.

**Andrew McCutchen Named NL Player of the Month. Keeping this up through September and October would be outstanding.

**Meadows and Weiss Named to FSL All-Star Team. Both have since been promoted to Altoona.

**Morning Report: Keon Broxton is Close to a Significant Accomplishment. Interesting note from John Dreker, with Keon Broxton only needing one stolen base for a rare accomplishment.


  • What about Tailon

  • Well this team has surprised us numerous times this year – and I am not quite ready to throw in the towel. BUT it is tempting to think through the scenarios and perhaps after Sunday start getting things lined up for the Play in Game. The Cubs actually have the luxury of working on the assumption that they will be playing that game and getting Arieta ready – home or away is not as important as having him well rested – but in game shape. Madden has been here before so I actually give him the edge over Hurdle in game management.

    Cole needs a break – skip a start. Same with Frankie and Morton. I’d consider bringing up Boscan and using him to give those guys a break – have him on a very short leash with Happ and Liz and maybe even Worley.

    Resting position players aggressively – but keeping the from being rusty should also be a priority, It has been a long season – and having everyone rested and ready to go for the one game play in needs to be the #1 Priority.

    • Skipping a couple starts would probably be a good idea. With Burnett about to return, Worley available, and Liz stretched out, it shouldn’t be a huge problem to give Cole and Liriano, at the very least, a bit of extra rest.

    • I do agree with a couple of parts of your commemt, but Hurdle was ” there ” with the Rockies in the same general time period as Maddon.

  • The Pirates got an early start on their roster house cleaning by sending Hart ($2.5 MM/yr) home. Ramirez ($3.0 MM, Pirates share), Burnett ($8.5 MM), Soria ($2.53 MM, Pirates share), Bastardo ($3.1 MM), Worley ($2.45 MM) and Liz ($1.0 MM) total $23.04 MM. Happ ($2.38 MM, Pirates share) and Alvarez ($5.75 MM) are likely gone as well. Walker ($8.0 MM) and Melancon ($5.4 MM) are another $13.4 MM speculated (by others in a recent thread) to be leaving. The total on all these would be $44.57 MM.

    What are your thoughts are replacements?

    • Nice. Bunch of us were discussing this the other day but I was too lazy to do the math. Great job.

    • I did some similar math the other day and Cutch, Marte and Harrison make nearly 8 million more (cumulatively) in 2016. I’m sure there’s a couple more. Who knows what the arbitration figures will look like?

      I’m sure they will have some money spend but I know good teams and good players get more expensive, not less. Plus in a few years, Cole will get some fat checks through arbitration.

    • Some of that could go to paying Cole more than we have to next year if it makes it easier to sign him to an extension which gets a bit into free agency, if the team is so inclined. It might not be a bad idea if they feel Glasnow and Taillon will both be quite good, keeping that 1-2-3 punch together as long as possible.

      First base and a middle-of-the-rotation starter are their only two real holes next year, with upgrade possibilities in the bullpen, back of the rotation, shortstop, and second base. Next year might be as good a year as any to take a bit of an aggressive approach at attempting to lock up Cole because of that.

      • He might buy into that given that he has missed part of this year. Not the way he wanted to go out.

  • St Louis has the division wrapped up. Bucs have no chance at all at catching them. Its like the RedSox, Yanks of years ago. When Yanks were great and RedSox good the Sox could never catch them. Seems the same for the Pirates and Cards. Another play in game yet again. I wonder if its just not meant to be?

    • It’s just crazy that while overall the Bucs’ SP and RP has been very good relative to MLB or even just the NL, the Cards levels for both are just miles and miles better. And without Wainwright to boot.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    September 4, 2015 9:31 am

    Maybe this team just plays up or down depending on the opponent – at least that is what it seems. Another terrible performance against the Brewers – the rotation is just a mess. Other than Happ, no one has been pitching very well. I thought Polanco was on his way to a huge push down the stretch, then he disappeared in Milwaukee.

    Anything less than a sweep in St Louis is not going to be good enough.

    • I didn’t check every at bat but I do remember Polanco had a number of hard contact, poor luck outs against the Brewers. If we win tonight spirits go up. Happ has the composure…..I hope he has his control tonight.

  • If the Pirates had won 3 of these past 4, people would be saying that this is a world series team. Everyone needs to relax, and deal with the up’s and down’s of the season. Most likely the division isn’t going to happen, but anyone can beat anyone in a one game playoff, so to say that they have no chance is completely idiotic.

    • Yeah if they had but they got their butts handed to them 6 times in a row by a far inferior team. They showed no heart or as Brown said any urgency. Fact is they cannot beat teams in their own division especially on the road and if they lose the top wild card spot to the Cubs they are finished. I will stand by this and if the opposite happens I will gladly come back here and eat crow. I don’t mind eating crow in this case as I will be happy to do so but I don’t see it happening.

  • This team is going to playing golf after they get beat by a central team (Cubs) in the wildcard. They will have lost the game even before it starts knowing in their heads that they cannot beat a division team it wont matter who is pitching for the Cubs and after they get swept by the Cards its looking like the game will be in Chicago. They basically lost the division way back in April and the Cards won it in April as the Bucs had a better record than the Cards after May. Their hitting has been mediocre all year and they almost completely relied on the SP and now that they have gone into the tank its finished for them…. Even if they somehow got real lucky and won the wild card does anyone seriously believe that they could beat the Cardinals in St. Louis? I’m a Miami Dolphin fan in football and I know that as long as they are in the same division as the Patriots they have no shot same with the Bucs this was going to be the year but again they have failed. I’m not pessimistic I am a realist.

  • While I realize the magnitude of the Cards and Cubs games, all of a sudden that Colorado/LA trip looks daunting.

    They miss Burnett.

    • Much will happen before that trip. Bucs get to face Nelson, Jungmann and Davies again. If rotations stay the same, the Cubs will throw Lester and Arrieta in the doubleheader vs Happ and Morton.

      Cards will miss Arrieta in their next series vs Cubs and miss Jungmann vs Brews.

      And lucky Bucs… as things are lined up, after 4 games with Cubs in 3 days, they go cross country for Grienke, Kershaw and Latos vs Frankie, Happ and Morton.

      • Agreed. I just know Colorado tends to screw up bullpens, especially if you get it in a slugfest or extras. Really wish that series would have been earlier in the year now. I know they got extra arms now, but you can’t throw Watson/Melancon every game.

      • Isn’t AJ returning in that doubleheader?

  • Serious question- do the Brewers steal signs when we’re in Milwaukee? Something has to be going on, our results there defy statistics. Their .200 hitting rookies hit home runs and smash doubles of the wall. Guys in year long slumps suddenly look like MVP candidates. And the results are the same whether they or we are in first place or last place. It just doesn’t make sense

  • Good luck to you and our Buccos. Pretty disappointing start to September so far… but perhaps it will help them rally for a strong finish.

  • As much as their is to like about this team, and there’s a lot, their inability to win in their own division is an issue that needs to be rectified soon!

    • In their last 7 Games – Polanco .148, Marte .115, Walker .190, Alvarez .150, Cervelli .111. We have some guys who are hitting, but with 5 starters all going into a slump at the same time, it is very difficult to provide any consistent offensive numbers.

      They need to find themselves, because nobody is going to roll over for them. Since Division games are almost all that is left, they better find a way to get their acts together. Last 25 or so games – who wants it?

      • This is clearly the issue. There are times when the offense has to click and put up 10 or more runs to show everyone they can explode, but this team just doesn’t have that mojo. These stats kind of enforce that. Does NH and Clint however have a role to force sit them if they’re not going to hit? What does this look like?
        2b: Hanson
        RF: Harrison
        3b: Kang
        CF: Cutch
        LF: Snider/et al
        c: Chris
        1b: Morse
        SS: Mercer
        Possibly even pull up Bell if he’s as hot as he seems to be, lets do this!

        • I would like to see Morse get more playing time, especially to see if he can hit RHP. Kang should be playing nearly every day.

          It’s true several of the hitters are slumping, but the starting pitching has left a lot to be desired.