Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pirates fans can breathe least for now

As far as stressful sports weeks are concerned, last week's was pretty darn stressful for Pirates fans. After winning nine of 11 games during a homestand that overlapped the end of July and the beginning of August--including four of five over the Cardinals--Pittsburgh dropped five games on a six game road swing through Colorado and St. Louis--including two extra inning losses to the Cardinals.

One of those losses to St. Louis was almost the direct result of Pirates outfielder Starle Marte's inability to snag an easy pop fly with one away in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 with the team ahead, 3-2.

After the game, many Pirates fans were beside themselves (including Yours truly), and since it was August, a third straight epic collapse was feared.

During a short three-game homestand last weekend, Pittsburgh had a chance to put some distance between itself and a Diamondbacks team that was the only real threat to its playoff chances. While Arizona didn't put a huge dent in the Pirates' large wild card lead, the D-Backs did gain a game in the standings after taking two of three--including a 16-inning loss on Sunday in-which Pittsburgh failed to score a single run over the final 13 innings.

You'd have to forgive most Pirates fans if they were a little worried at the onset of the team's current seven-game swing through San Diego and San Francisco. After all, it was almost a year ago to the day that Pittsburgh vanquished the Cardinals in a 19-inning marathon, only to get swept by the Padres at Petco Park right after that.

In fact, following the victory over St. Louis on August 19th of last year, the Pirates only won 12 games the rest of the way.

If such a slide came about after what should have been a confidence boosting victory over the World Series Champions a year ago, what would happen after three extra inning losses in five days?

The current answer is: "You're overreacting, Tony!"

Unlike the previous two seasons, when the sub-.500 Padres were the villains that starred in an unsatisfactory final chapter in what should have been a "feel good" baseball story, the Pirates have played like a team with the second best record in baseball and have taken the first two games in San Diego by a combined score of 11-2.

The Pirates two best pitchers, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, have pitched a combined 14 innings and have yielded only one run. And in Tuesday night's game, Pittsburgh's bats came to life and scored eight runs after not posting more than six runs in a game since July 30th.

During their modest two game winning streak, the Pirates have managed to pick up a game in the wild card standings on Arizona, who lost to the Reds, Monday night and have gained a game each on St. Louis and Cincinnati, who each lost Tuesday night and are a little further in the Pirates National League Central rear-view mirror.

Does this mean the Pirates are out of the woods, and it will be smooth sailing the rest of the way? Heck no. But maybe, just maybe there won't be a monumental collapse, after all.

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