Can the Pirates Lock Down Home Field in the Wild Card Game?

Playoff projections are a funny thing. Early in the season, they can disagree with the standings completely, projecting something totally different to happen. As the season gets closer to an end, the projections become more obvious, pretty much reflecting the current standings exactly. That’s the case that we have today.

When I posted the last update on Friday, the Pirates were one of five playoff contenders, but ranked fifth in the projections behind the Giants. That was how it was as far as the playoff seeds, with the Pirates holding the second Wild Card spot. Over the weekend, the Pirates took two of three against the Brewers, while the Giants were swept by the Padres. As a result, the Pirates moved up to home field in the Wild Card game (they are tied with the Giants, but hold the tie breaker due to the head-to-head record), and moved ahead of the Giants in the latest projections. The Pirates are also at 99.5% after this weekend, leaving a less than one percent chance that they’ll miss the playoffs. The big focus will be maintaining home field in the Wild Card game. More on that, and potential matchups, below.

The playoff odds and projections come from the top three projection sites: Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs and ClayDavenport.com. Here are the latest projections.

Baseball Prospectus: 87.7 wins, 99.2% chance to make playoffs

The Baseball Prospectus odds didn’t really change much. The Pirates went up about half a win, and the percentage went from 90.3% to 99.2%.

FanGraphs: 87.8 wins, 99.9% chance to make playoffs

FanGraphs also didn’t see a big change from the win perspective, going up 0.4 wins. They went up from 95.6% to 99.9%.

Clay Davenport: 87.7 wins, 99.4% chance to make playoffs

Clay Davenport went from 93.5% to 99.4%. They had the Giants the closest to the Pirates, with San Francisco sitting at 99.3%.

The Competition

Here are the rankings of the NL contenders. To get “contender” status, a team must have a 15% or better to make the playoffs in all three projection systems.

Team Odds W L

1

Nationals

100.0

95

67

2

Dodgers

100.0

93

69

3

Cardinals

100.0

90

72

4

Pirates

99.5

88

74

5

Giants

99.0

88

74

The Pirates have a pretty good schedule down the stretch, with four games against the Braves (who just fired their General Manager), and three games against the Reds. Meanwhile, the Giants take on the Dodgers for three games, along with four games against a Padres team that just swept them over the weekend. Other than the Pirates having better odds above, there aren’t really good projections for the first Wild Card spot. However, just looking at the schedule, it seems the odds are strong that the Pirates will maintain their spot.

I think it’s pretty obvious why home field advantage is a good thing as far as the Wild Card game goes. But it’s even better if the Pirates win the Wild Card game. Right now the winner of that game would go on to play the Washington Nationals. If the Pirates played in San Francisco, they’d have to travel from Cincinnati to San Francisco on the 29th for their game on the 1st. Then, if they won, they’d have to travel back across country after that game to be in Washington for the start of the NLDS on the 3rd. They can avoid the cross-country trip by securing home field advantage, allowing them to be fresher heading into the NLDS.

As for the actual standings, the Pirates’ magic number is three, which means they need a combination of three wins or Milwaukee losses to clinch. But they’re clearly making the playoffs. The key focus here will be finishing the week with the same or a better record than the Giants.

Analysis

  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. I remember in August the Bucs losing 7 straight. Wasn’t it the Phillies that did collapse with 7 or 8 games to go,

  • Really hope it works out that Cole can be skipped Sunday, I’m sure that is the plan to have him ready for the WC Tuesday. Home field and Cole would be awesome. Gotta go 4-3 and hope SF trips enough.

  • Just musing about the unlikely scenario in which St. Louis craps the bed and the Pirates, Cards and Giants finish in a 3-way tie with, say, 89 wins. This would create the potential of a series-ending Sunday game in Cincinnati, turn around for a Monday game at St. Louis followed by a Wednesday game in Pittsburgh vs. the Giants, followed by a Friday game in DC.

  • I love how the schedule lines up for us….except for the fact that our final 7 are on the road, where we’ve played 8 games under .500 ball. Hopefully, our better recent play will make up for that.

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