First Pitch: The Week That Could Decide Where the Wild Card Game is Played

This past week was an important week for the Pirates. They were going up against the Cubs in a four game series, and the Dodgers in a three game series. They took on Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw. And they did all of this while starting the week 2.5 games back from St. Louis, and four games up over the Cubs. They needed a big performance last week to keep pace with St. Louis, and to maintain their lead over Chicago. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

For whatever reason, every time the Pirates get close to the Cardinals this year, they either slip, or the Cardinals move away, or both. In this case, it was a little bit of both. While the Pirates were losing three of four to the Cubs, the Cardinals were sweeping the Brewers in a three game series. And the Cardinals did lose two of three to the Cubs over the weekend, while the Pirates took two of three over the Dodgers. This didn’t make up for the games the Pirates lost to St. Louis earlier in the week, and they couldn’t gain any further ground on Chicago.

The Pirates have four games coming up against the Rockies, who are one of the worst teams in the NL. Then they play the Cubs in a three game series to wrap up the week. Meanwhile, the Cardinals get seven games at home against the Reds and Brewers.

It’s possible that St. Louis could lose some ground in the upcoming week. It was only a week ago that they lost three of four to the Reds. But the odds of that happening are slim, with Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs putting the odds of the Pirates winning the division below 10% before Sunday’s games.

At this point, the key is keeping the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh. As we saw this week, Jake Arrieta will be a tough opponent. He’s not unstoppable. The Pirates beat him once already this year, and their loss this week was a one run loss in 12 innings, which was hardly Arrieta’s doing. For the Pirates to beat Arrieta, they’ll need every advantage they can get. Having the Wild Card game in PNC Park would provide one big advantage.

Looking at the other side of this race, the Cubs have a fairly easy schedule down the stretch, outside of their series with the Pirates. They have six games against Milwaukee, three against the Reds, and a makeup game against Kansas City. The Pirates still have a three game series against the Cardinals to deal with.

To stay ahead in the Wild Card race, the Pirates need to do something this week. They need to step up in a big way against Colorado, and they need to hold Chicago back at the end of the week, taking at least two games in that series. The Cubs have already won the season series, meaning the Pirates need at least a one game lead over Chicago to host the Wild Card game. Every single win counts at this point, with the three games this weekend being huge potential wins that could ultimately decide where the Wild Card game would be played.

**Source: Pirates to Call Up Keon Broxton. Broxton is expected to join the team in Denver tomorrow. Check the article for my report on him, and his potential role with the team this September. The biggest impact? Broxton won’t be a free agent at the end of the year, and the Pirates can keep him as outfield depth next year.

**Pirates Had an Important Decision to Make With Keon Broxton. Ryan Palencer breaks down that decision for the Pirates, along with looking at how Broxton developed this season.

**We’ll be starting our individual team recaps this week, breaking down the top ten prospects at each level, along with the progress they made this season. We’ll have a few odds and ends articles tomorrow, and will start the system recaps on Tuesday.

First Pitch

  • I am hopeful but the reality of the situation is that we will be playing either the Cubs or Cards at their home in the Wild card game.

  • Apropos of nothing, I listened to Vin Scully calling the series in LA for obvious reasons, and I’d like to relay a couple stories he told.

    1) While in the minor leagues, Gregory Polanco was going back on a fly ball to center. The ball apparently hit the top of the wall and bounced over, but Polanco wheeled around and fired the ball back into the infield.

    What had actually happened was Polanco caught the ball, and at just that time, two kids playing on the other side of the wall threw a ball off the top of it, giving the illusion of a home run. A bizarre play indeed.

    2) Arquimedes Euclides Caminero is so named because when his father was in school, he saw the names of the two great mathematicians in his algebra book and liked them.

    3) When Andrew McCutchen was a little boy, his father took him outside to practice hitting. He drew a home plate on the ground and told McCutchen, “This is your house. Everyone you love is in this house. The ball is an intruder. Protect your house,” encouraging young Cutch not just to meet the ball, but to attack it as if it posed a threat. And so we have our Cutch and his violent, effective swing.

    In closing, God I love Vin Scully.

  • I’m not thrilled with this late trip to Coors. Hitters park against a team with nothing to play for, which makes them loose. The pen usually gets a workout out there. Seems like they always drop the next series after playing in the thin air, especially a 4 game set. I’m sure there will be lineup angst….just nervous about all if it. Hope they prove me wrong.

    • Me too, they just always seem to play bad here, no matter what the standings of the two teams. Two years ago they hit the road fresh off the 4 of 5 game win against the Cards and proceeded to step on their d**ks completely and get swept!

  • September records (# games v. opponent):
    Cubs: 12-5 (Pit 3)
    Bucs: 9-9 (StL 3, Cubs 3)
    Cards: 6-10 (Pit 3)

    And their opponents:
    Col: 10-7 (Pit 3)
    Cin: 9-7 (Pit 3, Cubs 3, StL 3)
    Mil: 6-11 (Cubs 6, StL 4)
    Atl: 5-12 (StL 3)
    KC: 6-11 (Cubs 1)

    So just looking at who’s hot in September… we’re DOOMED!

    The September call-up thing is not working in Bucs favor. Let’s hope the Brewers’ new GM has an algorithm to help the Crew go 13-0 to finish.

  • Pirates have their SP lined up the way they want for Cubs series. CH is treating it like a playoff series, which is the right move.

    Playing in Denver and Chicago, it sure is a good week to get hot as a hitter.

    Let’s go Bucs!

    • Three teams over 90 wins from the NL Central? Great performances from all of them, and the Brewers and Reds are still dangerous teams.

      Strange Strategy – In the game yesterday with a one run lead in the 8th and Walker doubles to lead off, and no attempt whatsoever to move him to 3B with one out? Brings the IF in and reduces the types of pitches that can be thrown? With 6 outs left, an extra run has to be treated like gold.

      • Do you really want your guy hitting .300, who is also very capable of pushing a ball to the right side, giving up an out in the hopes that Sean Rodriguez and Jordy Mercer can come through?

        I don’t.

        Cervelli pulled the ball to third if I remember, which is his fault, but I think Sean and Jordy went down meekly after that anyways.

        • Yes. The only ball he saw that he could take to the right side was a curve on the outside corner on the first pitch and he did not offer. Then he was pitched inside afterward to not allow him to slap it to the right. Would two bunts have gotten Walker home? I realize it is “small ball”, but it is that time of year when you do whatever it takes.

          • I’d probably be much closer to agreeing with you if I thought the probability of actually executing that chain of bunts was reasonably high, but I don’t.

            • Never a truer statement NMR- I almost crapped myself in the last couple days where I saw Burnett lay down a 2 strike bunt and saw Polanco actually succesfully architect a drag bunt for a hit

  • ARam may not be able to replicate Kang over 162 games anymore, but he certainly can for one game.

    • The statistical expected value from the two playears aren’t close, Kang is much better.

      • Agreed, but in a one game win or go home scenario, the statistical expected value is significantly reduced. Now if we talk about a series vs Cards, then it’s a different story.

        • Nah, the expected value isn’t reduced when only playing one game. You are saying that the expected value of rolling a six with one die is something different than 1/6 if you only roll once. Simply not true. Yes, anything can happen in one game. But what is expected is the expected value (mean probability).

          By the way you are looking better and better!

          • But really, in a single-event measurement, any possibility on the probability curve, for either player, is possible. Their impacts deviate after several measurements. In the limit of a single measurement, either could be better.

            Yes, the likelihood Kang, in a single event, would contribute is higher, but variance is so high that I can’t argue, with my knowledge of the nature of probability of single events, that in a single game scenario, just swapping A-Ram for Kang genuinely matters.

          • Guilty as charged! Thx!

  • If the Bucs can shave another game or two off the lead this week, I like their chances in a must sweep situation against the Cards at home. I’m not ready to write them off from the division just yet, even though the Kang injury really hurt their chances.

    Thank God we have A-Ram who is no Kang but at least gives them an experienced bat to try to fill in somewhat.