Last night the Pirates dropped a really tough match against the Padres in which they blew a six run lead with their first half ace on the mound. James McDonald cruised through four inning of work but blew up in the fifth inning making a 7-1 Pirates advantage disappear and have the game tied at seven without making it through the inning. Just tough times.
In the recap last night I talked a little bit about why I don't agree with the notion that the Pirates are in a free fall in the standings and why I didn't think this was the "beginning of the end" for the Black and Gold. Today while I was on my usual morning run I was thinking about all the teams that were in the wild card race and even though the Pirates haven't played great baseball but when I think about the teams that they are competing with in the wild card race I don't really remember them being on an unreal tear either.
I guess the reason that I don't remember hearing about those other teams is because they haven't been on an unreal tear, they have been playing the same type of baseball that the Pirates have against comparable competition.
First lets start with the division. The NL Central is still a tight race with the Reds leading the way. The Reds are on an unreal hot streak and since the All-Star break the Reds are 20-8 which includes their current streak of 1-5 in their last six games. The Pirates, as bad as some want to treat the last week, are only 3.5 games out of first place in the division with six games remaining against the Reds this season. How is this terrible? The Pirates are playing below the line as Mike Tomlin might say and they are still in striking distance.
Now if you know me you know that I never really thought the Pirates could win the division and if they were going to make the playoffs they were going to have to do so through the wild card. Not that I don't think the Pirates have a decent lineup but I just think the Reds are an overall better team and while they haven't done a lot in terms of getting into the playoffs they have had some good success in the recent past. They also have this Joey Votto guy waiting to come back. Oh boy.
So with that being said I focus on the wild card for the Pirates. Last night in some discussion I made the point that the Pirates loss last night sucked but the Pirates were still up 2.5 games in the wild card and that the world isn't coming to an end because of one bad loss. I had some people telling me that the Cardinals were going to make a huge run and that next week we could be looking at the Pirates chasing the Cardinals. While I agree with that to an extent I don't really think people understand where the other teams in the wild card race stand. Here are the records since the All-Star break of the top teams in the wild card race. I am not including the Braves in this because since there are two wild card spots we can assume that they are already in and I am focusing in on the teams the Pirates would compete with to stay IN the playoffs.
Pirates: 15-12 (Mil, Col, Mia, ChC, Hou, ChC, Cin, Ari, SD)
Cardinals: 15-12 (Cin, Mil, ChC, LAD, ChC, Col, Mil, SF, Phil)
Dodgers: 14-12 (SD, Phil, NYM, StL, SF, Ari, ChC, Col)
Giants: 15-12 (Hou, Atl, Phil, SD, LAD, NYM, Col, StL, Col)
Diamondbacks: 15-13 (ChC, Cin, Hou, Col, NYM, LAD, Phil, Pit, Was)
So after looking at those teams and looking at the opponents of those teams that they played why is it that the Pirates are in a free fall and looking at their season to be over while teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers are said to be streaking and in prime position to catch the Pirates? If you could explain that to me I would be all ears but it looks as if everyone is on even terms since the break and the Pirates are playing up to par in terms of the wild card when people are acting like they are eight games back and have to win every game.
The Padres, who most think the Pirates should sweep easy, actually have been playing better than any one of the wild card hopefuls, sans the Braves. The Padres are 16-11 since the break and 22-14 in their last 26 games. They had the two of the most prized offensive possessions going into the trade deadline and they ended up keeping them. Why again should this be a team that just rolls over?
The season isn't over. One thing I looked at last night was the Cardinals run into the playoffs and something big jumped out at me: the Cardinals lost games like this much later in the season than the Pirates did. On September 22, 2011 the Cardinals went into a game against the Mets 1.5 games back in the wild card standings. They were up 6-1 going into the eighth inning, at home. All the Mets did was score one run in the eighth and SIX more in the ninth inning. The Cardinals blew the lead and lost a half game in the wild card standings. Going into the game the Mets were not a playoff contender and were nine games under .500. Was the Cardinals season over? I sure as hell know that team couldn't afford to lose a game like that with the playoffs on the line. They did and they went on to win the World Series. The Pirates have 50 games left in the season and after that loss they are still leading the wild card race. Lets all step back off the cliff.
Again, like I said the Pirates loss last night is inexcusable and I agree with that whole heartedly, but lets not act like other playoff challengers are playing out of their minds. They aren't.