One day after getting beaten up by St. Louis in the final game of a three game weekend series at PNC Park, the Pirates came back on Monday afternoon and won a Labor Day matinee in Milwaukee, 5-2. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the Cardinals were getting clobbered by the Reds.
The Pirates victory combined with the loss by the Cardinals gives Pittsburgh sole possession of first place in the National League Central Division.
Speaking of the division, three and a half games separate the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds, so with just over three weeks left in the regular season, things are still very much up for grabs.
However, thanks to the mostly awesome play by those three teams, combined with the mediocre play of every other team in the National League not named the Braves or Dodgers, there is no doubt that the second and third place finishers in the Central will square off in the National League Wild Card game, held shortly after the end of the regular season.
This is all but a certainty, thanks to the closest team in the race in recent weeks, the Diamondbacks, failing to capitalize on the struggles of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
The Pirates, for example, reached their high-water mark of 26 games over .500 (70-44) on August 8th, thanks to a victory over Miami. Not only was Pittsburgh in first place in the division, it had a whopping 11.5 game lead over the Diamondbacks for the second wild card spot. From that point forward, though, the Pirates began a slide that would see them lose four in a row, seven of nine and eventually 11 of 16.
Meanwhile, instead of getting hot and maybe putting some pressure on the Bucs, Arizona basically played .500 ball and only gained a few games in the standings.
Now that Pittsburgh has regained its footing, winning four of six, the D'Backs are floundering and have lost four of five, and are not only 10.5 games behind Pittsburgh, they're seven games back of the Reds for the second wild card spot.
With 25 games remaining, if the Pirates go 13-12 to finish the year, Arizona and/or Washington (also 10.5 back of the Bucs) would have to go 24-2 just to tie--probably not going to happen.
Pittsburgh's magic number for a postseason berth is now 16, and it's not so much a question of if it will happen, but when.
As for that division race? The Pirates play Cincinnati six more times and St. Louis three more games, while the Reds and Cardinals will finish their season series with three more games this week.
The magic number for the winner of the NL Central may not reach 0 until the last day of the regular season.
What a race.......thank God for that second wild card. Other wise, along with the Jolly Roger, my blood pressure may be raised a lot higher.
Let's Go Bucs!