First Pitch: With One Week to Go, the Pirates Control Their Own Destiny

CHICAGO — The Pirates enter the final week of the season with a rare opportunity — they control their own destiny. They lost to the Cubs tonight, and couldn’t capitalize on the Cardinals losing late to the Brewers. However, they will enter their three game series against the Cardinals on Monday down 3.0 games in the NL Central.

“We had a really good road trip,” Hurdle said on the end of the recent trip that got them in this position. “You go on the road, and you go 8-2 on a ten game road trip. Very positive trip. A lot of good things are going on. Guys are confident, in a good place. We ran into a tough draw tonight, and we’ll move on. We get to go back home and play the team we’re hunting.”

If the Pirates sweep the Cardinals this week, then they enter the final series of the year tied for first place in the NL Central. That would put them in position to either match or beat the Cardinals win totals. Obviously if they win more than the Cardinals that final weekend, they win the NL Central. But if they end up tied with the Cardinals, they’d force a one game playoff, which in this scenario would be held in PNC Park, since the Pirates would have won the season series against St. Louis.

The two teams are currently tied on the season at 8-8. So it’s important that the Pirates take at least two games this week from the Cardinals, so that they have that home field in any tiebreaker. That said, two wins against the Cardinals means the Pirates would have to sweep the Reds, and the Cardinals would have to lose twice against the Braves in the final series. Basically, the Pirates really need the sweep.

Prior to today’s game against the Cubs, Clint Hurdle joked that we’re finally getting to the point where the “biggest series of the year” talk will be over. The Pirates have played some big games recently, going up against the Cardinals at the start of the month, and now taking on the Cubs twice since then. They’ve taken on the Dodgers in a series that featured Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the mound for Los Angeles. But with the current stakes, it’s clear that this upcoming series will be the biggest series of the year.

Hurdle hasn’t been assuming the Pirates are destined for the Wild Card game, even after facing a ton of questions today from ESPN, pre-game radio, and then the writer’s pre-game meeting about preparing for the Wild Card game, and facing Arrieta.

“The one thing I am amused about is everybody takes for granted it’s going to be a one game playoff. That’s what still tickles me,” Hurdle said. “I’ve been in this situation before, had similar conversations, and before you know it, you blink your eye and the scenery changed.”

The players aren’t giving up on the idea of winning the division either.

“We’re not satisfied with a Wild Card,” A.J. Burnett said after tonight’s game. “We want to see what we can do. We want to go for the division. It’s not over yet. It’s going to be a fun week.”

This weekend’s series shows exactly why the Pirates need to win the division. The obvious reason would involve avoiding a one game playoff where they’d go up against Jake Arrieta. But the Pirates showed this weekend that they can beat the Cubs in a best of five series. They’ve shown at times this year that they can beat St. Louis in a best of five series. This is a team that has been one of the best in baseball all year, and right now they might be THE best in baseball with their recent hot streak. But that advantage is seriously neutralized when going up against the best pitcher in baseball in a one game playoff.

**There’s been a lot I’ve written about Arrieta this weekend. I promise that changes tomorrow, as we shift to the big St. Louis series. I’ve also got some great features for tomorrow morning, with some interesting looks at September call-ups. And then there’s a surprise that has made my year, and will make you forget about this loss to Arrieta.

**Pirates Weigh in on What Makes Jake Arrieta Such a Good Pitcher. Tonight’s recap from Chicago, just letting the quotes do the talking on how good Arrieta has been, and what makes him so good.

**Is There an Advantage in Seeing Jake Arrieta Three Times in Three Weeks? Were the Cubs ill-advised in starting Arrieta tonight?

**How Gregory Polanco Could Be a Key to Beating Jake Arrieta. Wrote this before the game, and Polanco had the lone hit. He’s going to be a big factor if they do play in the Wild Card game.

**Jordy Mercer Has Stepped Up at the Right Time With Jung-ho Kang Out. Leftover from Saturday, about how good Jordy Mercer has been lately.

**Three Years After Their Epic Collapse, the Pirates Are Finishing Strong. Also from Saturday, comparing this season to the epic collapse that wrapped up around this time three years ago.

  • If the Pirates should win tonight, is there any chance they re-shuffle and throw Cole on Tuesday and Liriano on Wednesday?

    • They’d both be on shorter rest so I think they’d back away from this. Morton is going to have to win a game for us no matter how you figure it.

      • What they could do is switch Locke in for Morton. Locke hasnt been awful lately, and more importantly if you are choosing between your back end arms the matchup may matter more than usual.

        And STL against LH arms just makes sense. If im going with a sub optimal arm, i want the one who throws with the hand STL hits 30 point lower in batting average against and 20 points lower in wRC+ against. If they dont want Liriano throwing on short rest, Locke makes more sense than Morton.

        • What a ringing endorsement – “If I’m going with a sub optimal arm”…….I thought of this too actually. And it’s sad that we’re having this conversation using these terms but given the Cards lefty heavy line up and the fact that Locke was………ok in his last couple starts I would probably go with Locke over Morton but I haven’t heard any announcements. And this is coming from a borderline Morton apologist and someone who gets more aggravated by Locke than he should. I’m sure they’ll analyze the decision 2,000 different ways and make a decision.

  • The bucs will pitch their 4, 5, 6 starters against the cards. Sorry, but with those guys going I doubt we take 3 games from the Cards. Lets just hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

    • Happ goes tonight with a 1.73 ERA in his last 7 starts and Cole goes on Wednesday so I’m really not sure what you’re talking about.

      • And Carlos Martinez is out for the year with a non-career threatening injury so I don’t feel guilty about getting excited.

      • I’m confident they can win today and Wednesday. What scares me is tomorrow’s Morton/Wacha match-up. Maybe Charlie can find the stuff he had a month ago when he was actually putting in some pretty dominant starts?

  • The other thing we have to do is stop feeding into the Arrieta mythos before he actually ascends to heaven. You don’t approach him like he’s special. You have to have an attitude that you’ve faced him multiple times this season and the results have been mixed.

    -Wabbit

    • I think we as fans (myself included) do this but I don’t think the players do. They may try and make an adjustment here or there but I think this is a pretty confident bunch. I think their best bet is 1 run over 7 maybe, with Cole matching and then you beat their bullpen. Sound ridiculous but I think it’s their best bet if they don’t win the division.

  • Last night’s defeat turns the series vs Cards into a must sweep series in order to win the division. With that being said, what a great opportunity the Pirates have considering they were more than 10 games back and 4 games under .500 in mid-May.

    Win or lose the division, what a Herculian effort they have given just to get back in it. My hats off to them for climbing out of a hole and being the best team in baseball for most of the season.

    • You must also acknowledge that there is the possibility we don’t face the Cubs again this season at all.

      One never knows.

      -Wabbit

    • Props to the Pirates for getting it done after that 18-22 start…

      but…

      the same for the Cards. I thought, after trading Miller, the loss of Wainwright was going to have them fighting for 2nd place, at best.

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