After dominating the St. Louis Cardinals in two of three games last week, the Pirates were forced to relive the horrors of Miller Park as the Brewers swept them out of town. Since the Cardinals simultaneously lost three of four to the Washington Nationals, many Pittsburgh fans felt relieved feeling the Pirates dodged a bullet.
But did they? The Cardinals are still ahead of the Pirates by 1.5 games in the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates -playing a sub .500 team- had a golden opportunity to take the second Wild Card spot over the weekend. Instead of viewing this weekend as dodging a bullet, it should be seen as a lost opportunity. Obviously, the season isn't over, but the window to secure a playoff spot is fading and with six games remaining against the invincible Cincinnati Reds and Wild Card-leading Atlanta Braves.
Now, the Pirates have a brief home stand against the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. These are two teams the Pirates need to sweep in order to get back on track. After a disappointing August, the club has stumbled out of the gate in September. At the very least, the Pirates need to go 5-1 before heading to Cincinnati.
However, if the Pirates go 3-3 or worse, then it might be time to end the playoff dream and hope for a winning season, something that is no longer a guarantee given the team's recent struggles.
The good news is Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez appear to be heating up. McCutchen has hits in five straight games while Alvarez has three homers in the last five games. The offense may get a lift from some of their youth like Brock Holt, but they still lack a consistent leadoff hitter.
The breaking point will, once again, come down to pitching. AJ Burnett has rebounded as evidenced by his start on Saturday against Milwaukee, but the rest of the rotation is a huge questions mark. Jeff Karstens is injured, James McDonald has been atrocious, Wandy Rodriguez has been up and down, and Kevin Correia is…Kevin Correia. Can this rotation, now suited with a rookie, keep the Pirates above water?
It all starts with this home stand. The Pirates are chasing a Wild Card spot and a winning record, but, they need to take care of these next six games first. This week will either keep the Pirates in the hunt, or respectably drop them out of contention.