By John Perrotto
It is time for the Pirates to start concentrating on the National League wild card race.
That might seem a little rash because the Pirates (66-46) are not eliminated from contention in the NL Central. Yet they find themselves six games behind the Cardinals (73-41) after losing twice in a three-game series that ended Thursday night in St. Louis.
The feeling here is that even with 50 games remaining in the season and six games left against the Cardinals — three-game series at St. Louis from Sept. 4-6 and PNC Park from Sept. 28-30 — the six-games is too much to overcome.
After all, the Pirates have the third-best record in the major leagues yet are barely within hailing distance of the Cardinals, who have a five-game edge over the Kansas City Royals (68-46) for the best record in baseball.
It just feels like the Cardinals’ year, at least in the regular season.
Thus, the Pirates’ focus should turn toward making sure they secure one of the two wild card playoff berths, preferably the first one so they can host the winner-take-all NL wild card game for the third consecutive year.
The Pirates hold just a 1 ½-game lead in the wild card standings over the Chicago Cubs (65-48), who have the fourth-best record in the majors. The San Francisco Giants (61-53) are six games back and the Washington Nationals (58-56) are nine games out.
The Pirates have seven games left with the Cubs, four at home from Sept. 15-17 then three in Chicago from Sept. 25-27.
A makeup date has not been announced for the Pirates-Cubs rainout last Monday at PNC Park. However, a source with knowledge of the situation said it will likely be played as part of a doubleheader Sept. 15.
Both teams have Sept. 14 off but the Pirates’ players are reluctant to play on that day because it is the team’s only scheduled off day of the month.
Meanwhile, the Pirates have a chance to take care of the Giants next week when the defending World Series champions visit PNC Park for a four-game series that starts Thursday night.
The Pirates are finished with the Nationals this season but also must keep an eye on the Los Angeles Dodgers (64-51) and New York Mets (63-52), who could wind up in the wild card chase if they are unable to maintain their division leads. The Dodgers are up by 2 ½ games on the Giants in the NL West and the Mets have a 4 ½-game advantage on the Nationals in the NL East.
The Pirates have three games left on the road with both teams, opening a three-game set on Friday night at New York and playing Sept. 18-20 at Los Angeles.