Monday, September 23, 2013

Pirates magic No. down to two as the team has a decent shot to wrap up postseason bid, Monday night

What's the best tonic for a traumatic loss after your favorite baseball team gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning to its biggest division rivals?

Winning the next night, of course, and it doesn't hurt when the magic number for a playoff spot gets reduced from four to two in a span of 36 hours.

The Pirates led Cincinnati, 5-2, through eight innings, Friday night at PNC Park. Yours truly had already all but penciled in a victory for the Buccos. Unfortunately, thanks to some less than stellar defensive play by shortstop Jordy Mercer and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the Reds were able to tie the game at five in the ninth and went on to win in 10 innings.

The Nationals have rarely lost over the past four weeks, and their 8-0 thrashing of Miami on Friday night reduced Pittsburgh's lead for that second wild card to five with eight games remaining. Yes, the odds were still pretty long for another historic collapse by the Pirates, but man, that loss to Cincinnati was just so hard to deal with for many in a fan base that have seen mostly depressing, heartbreaking baseball over the past two decades.

Fortunately, A.J. Burnett pitched perhaps his most important game as a Pirate, Saturday night, going seven strong innings and striking out 12 along the way, as Pittsburgh bounced back to win 4-2 and reduce their magic number to three for clinching a wild card spot.

The Nationals game was rained out, Saturday, but they split their doubleheader with Miami on Sunday, and despite another less than ideal performance by former All Star Jeff Locke, who gave up five runs in the first inning on Sunday, as the Reds took the rubber game, 11-3, Sunday afternoon at PNC Park in the Bucs home finale, Pittsburgh's magic for a playoff spot was reduced to two.

With his ineffective performance, Locke may have also given away any shot of pitching in the postseason, as I don't see any way Clint Hurdle allows him to pitch in any meaningful October baseball games.

While Pittsburgh played its final regular season home game at PNC Park on Sunday, whether or not it plays a game there in the postseason will be determined by what happens over the final six games. By the Reds coming to PNC and taking two games, they now sit along side Pittsburgh, atop the Wild Card standings.

Not to be forgotten is that the Cardinals are still two games up with six to go in the NL Central, and a division title doesn't look good for Pittsburgh (making Friday night's loss all the more important in that regard).

However, a five game lead in the wild card standings with six remaining means that we're all but assured of watching at least one postseason game.

Hopefully, PNC Park will be lit up one more time before all is said and done.

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