In what is being billed by many as the biggest series in the history of PNC Park, the Cardinals are heading to Pittsburgh for a five game series, starting Monday night. The Pirates will either be two and a half games behind St. Louis in the National League Central division or one and half back, depending on what happens in the Cardinals game in Atlanta Sunday night.
It's nice that the Pirates are playing in such a high-profile series, but in the grand scheme of things, how big the series is will depend on what actually transpires during the five games. If either team takes three in the series, that team will simply pick up a game in the standings. At the end of September, that would be epic, but in late July/early August, it would be no different than if the two teams were playing in different series and one gained a game in the standings on the other.
However, for instance, if the Pirates take four or five games, it would be an extraordinary development. While a sweep of the Cardinals wouldn't give Pittsburgh a strangle-hold on the division (at the very best, a sweep would give the Buccos a three and a half game lead), it would certainly be a wake-up call to the rest of baseball that these Pirates are for real.
Pittsburgh has been struggling a bit as of late--10-12 since reaching the high-water mark of 21 games over .500 on June 30th--so I'd like to see a great series against the Cardinals this week. Having said that, the St. Louis series is just a part of a long 11-game homestand for the Pirates, so just doing well over all would be huge for the psyche of the team and the fan base.
As most Pirates fans know all too well, this time of year is when the collapses started in each of the last two seasons, so if we can just get past this little hump and get into mid-August, things could really start to shape up for an exciting finish.
Nobody ever said pennant baseball was for the faint of heart.