A common phrase uttered by me over the course of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 19 straight years of losing was: "All I really want is for them to make it to September and be only a few games back of a playoff spot." Well, here we are on August 27th, 2012, and the Pirates are, indeed, only two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card spot in the National League.
Further more, the Cardinals are in town to play the Pirates in a very important series at PNC Park. If Pittsburgh can do some damage in this series and take at least two games, we could be in for a very exciting last month of the season. And, really, what more can you ask for than for your favorite baseball team to be in a playoff race right until the very end? As a Pirates fan, that would be even more special because of everything that has happened to the team since shortly after my 20th birthday.
Like I said a couple of weeks ago, in the context of the big picture, where the Pirates are in the standings is quite remarkable. However, in the context of "right now," things aren't looking so hot for Pittsburgh, and they haven't for quite some time.
Since August 4th, the Pirates are 8-15, and they've only won one of their past seven series. During the slump, they've gone from four games up in the wild card standings, to two games out.
The Cardinals have been scuffling around a bit for most of this season despite having a fairly decent pitching staff and an explosive offense that ranks third in the Majors in runs scored. But you just knew they were going to flip the switch eventually, and it appears that they have.
St. Louis just concluded a series in Cincinnati where they took two of three from the first place Reds, and looked rather impressive in doing so.
The Cardinals are defending World Series champions, so they weren't going to go away, and now they find themselves at PNC Park. For what it's worth, the Pirates have had pretty decent success against St. Louis this season--they've taken four of the last six at Busch Stadium--but we're heading for the stretch run. This is where a team like the Cardinals starts to have a sense of urgency and goes for the throat each and every game.
They talk about the regression to the mean with baseball players and teams. Well, when it comes to a pennant race, there is no regression to the mean; there is no correction in numbers. It's about winning baseball games right now.
The Cardinals came from way behind in the wild card standings and made the playoffs on the last day of the season a year ago. They eventually found themselves in the World Series, where they defeated the Texas Rangers for their second title since 2006.
They know how to play September baseball.
When it comes to the Pirates, there is that talk of regressing to the mean, but it's more likely that this inexperienced team is finding the pressure of pennant baseball to be a little too intense.
A winning season is still a possibility, but a playoff berth? I guess we might know the answer to that question later on this week.
I always wanted the Pirates to be a few games back of a playoff berth late in the year.
Well, here we are.