In April, no one would have predicted the Pirates being 2.5 games out of a playoff spot on September 18th, yet, there’s not a lot of buzz in the city for the start of a pivotal three game series between Milwaukee (74-72) and Pittsburgh (74-72) who are both 2.5 games back of St. Louis Cardinals (77-70) for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
While the Pirates are still hovering around, they have lost 18 of 25 and are 15-28 since August 1. The Pirates are losing games in embarrassing fashion such as Sunday’s loss to Chicago and another late season collapse has more people talking about whether they are going to finish .500 than earning the second wildcard spot.
This isn’t a playoff team but what the addition of a second wildcard spot has added is mediocre teams being in the mix until the end, which can be argued by some fan bases as not a bad thing. For instance, mediocre teams make the playoffs all the time in other sports such as football where 8-8 and even 7-9 teams sometimes find their way into the post-season. The Brewers and Pirates are nine games back of the wildcard leading Braves and if the the wildcard setup from last season was still in place, they wouldn’t be playing meaningful baseball right now.
A few years ago I always imagined late September baseball with the Pirates right in the playoff hunt as an electric time in the city but that’s not the case at all now like it was a few months ago and one reason is because of how the Pirates have lost in the past six weeks. Fans were on such a high and now it’s all gone away and it’s been more than just the losses, it’s how they have lost during that period.
Pittsburgh needed to take 3 of 4 from the Cubs and this sets up as the Pirates most important series of their season. If the Pirates lose 2 of 3 from the Brewers, we can officially put a fork in them from a statistical standpoint, finally.
For the Brewers, it’s the same thing. They are major league-best 20-6 since August 20th and this is such a huge series for both teams.
The series opener features Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo (15-8, 3.72) vs A.J. Burnett (15-7, 3.66 ERA). The Brewers have won each of Gallardo’s last nine starts, while the Pirates have lost each of A.J. Burnett’s last five starts.
TONIGHT’S PIRATES LINEUP
1. Starling Marte, LF
2. Jose Tabata, RF
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B
5. Neil Walker, 2B
6. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
7. Clint Barmes, SS
8. Rod Barajas, C
9. A.J. Burnett, P