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.