I’ll be honest, I didn’t think the Pirates would get this close to leading the NL Central. That’s mostly because I didn’t think the Cardinals would ever slip from their massive lead.
The Cardinals entered their series with the Pirates last weekend up 6.0 games in the division. They had just won nine of their last 11 games. There were only three times this season where they lost three games or more in a row, and their longest losing streak was four games in a row. They’ve been in first place in the division since their eighth game of the season, and haven’t dropped below a 2.5 game lead since April 29th. The last time they dropped to 2.5 back was heading into the All-Star break, when the Pirates took three of four against them, capped off with two walk off winners. But the Cardinals came out of the break 7-1, the Pirates came out of the break with injuries, and St. Louis quickly built up a seven game lead in the division again.
It looked like the only way the Pirates could catch the Cardinals was to beat them in every game the two teams played against each other, as the Cardinals didn’t look like they would be losing any time soon. And then suddenly, the Cardinals started losing.
After the Pirates took two of three last weekend, St. Louis dropped five of their next seven against the Cubs and the Reds. Meanwhile, the Pirates responded with five of seven wins against the Reds and Brewers. In two weeks, the two teams will play again, and if the Pirates keep pace with the Cardinals until then, they will have the capability of sweeping St. Louis and taking the division lead.
Keeping pace isn’t a guarantee, and this week will be the hardest week for that to take place. The Pirates have four games at home against the Cubs, started by a double-header tomorrow. They will follow that up with three games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Cardinals hit the road against the Brewers and Cubs, with three games against each NL Central rival.
The following week will see the Pirates remain on the road with four games against Colorado, and three games against the Cubs. St. Louis will return home for three games against the Reds and four games against the Brewers. And then the two teams meet for that three game series in Pittsburgh.
It’s possible the Cardinals could continue slipping. That’s a concept that seemed possible all throughout the year after injuries, advanced metrics suggesting a regression for some players, or just the idea that they couldn’t keep coming from behind for dramatic win after dramatic win. But they kept winning despite injuries, and their players didn’t regress, and they kept winning game after game. The idea that they would eventually slip became less likely.
They’re slipping now, and the Pirates could take advantage. It’s not like it will be easy for Pittsburgh, since they’ll have to go through two playoff teams to either keep up with St. Louis or capitalize on their continued struggles. But it’s definitely possible, especially with the way the team has been playing lately.
It’s not out of the question that by the end of the week the Pirates could be leading the NL Central for the first time all season. But at the least, they should be able to keep pace with the Cardinals, putting them in good position to take the NL Central by the end of the season. And that’s something that seemed totally impossible just two weeks ago.
**Prospect Watch: Brubaker and Arribas Put Morgantown One Win Away From Title. Only two teams are left in the post-season in the Pirates’ system. Morgantown could win the NYPL title tomorrow, while Indianapolis starts the next round.
**Giles: What Can We Make of Jeff Locke’s Season? The latest from Ed Giles, breaking down the second half struggles from Jeff Locke, and some of the reasons why those struggles could be taking place.
**Neal Huntington on the Challenges of Replacing Front Office Personnel. The Pirates are losing personnel. First it was Jeff Banister, then Marc DelPiano. Tyrone Brooks could be next. Neal Huntington discussed this on Sunday, noting the challenges involved with replacing those people. One thing that Pirates fans don’t have to worry about: Huntington leaving. He said he’s here for the long-haul.
**Morning Report: Mitchell Tolman Leads the Offense For Morgantown. He fits the mold of what the Pirates are going for in the draft on offense: hits for average, good plate patience, has some gap power, but not a lot of home run power.
**Prospect Notebook: Meadows, McGuire, Brault, Taillon, Glasnow, Korean Scouting. Leftover from Sunday, discussing some prospect notes on the AFL and instructs.
**Huntington on Pitcher Workloads, Playoff Races, and More Call-Ups. More leftovers from Sunday, with a look at some of the roster moves and pitching rotations coming up.