After the Pirates’ 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals Monday night, an old college classmate of mine posted a tweet with the Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word microcosm.

I thought it was a perfect summation of the evening considering the missed opportunities, game-changing mistakes and the wasting of a masterful pitching performance.

How else do you justify six scoreless innings from a team’s starting pitcher — who faced the minimum 18 batters — and the offense can’t scratch out a single run despite 16 runners reaching base?

How else do you summarize a team having the prime opportunity to catch the white rabbit of the National League Central Division in a head-to-head matchup, but can’t drive in a run with the bases loaded in four different opportunities?

How else can you characterize a season where on one end you have the Pirates, who seemed to find new and different ways to win games in each of the final four months of the season (after finding ways to lose during the first two), and on the other, the Cardinals, who proved able to overcome anything, from the untimely off-season death of their up-and-coming right fielder, numerous injuries to star players and an FBI hacking investigation that resulted in the firing of their scouting director?

The seventh inning Monday night was another example of that same dynamic: just when the Pirates appeared to have the Cardinals right where they wanted them on a fly ball by Josh Harrison that could’ve landed in the left field gap for a lead-off base hit, Peter Bourjos makes a potential run-saving catch before colliding with left fielder Stephen Piscotty.

Just when we thought the Cardinals could not overcome losing another key performer, they dug in during the ninth inning and overcame adversity yet again. And yet again, when in a position to capitalize on their opponent’s misfortune, the Pirates let it slip through their hands with an outcome quite similar to Gregory Polanco’s misplayed ball in right field.

And all of this comes in an atmosphere from the previous weekend that had Cardinals fans worried about the Pirates, Pittsburgh fans worried about the third-place Chicago Cubs, and Cubs fans worried about, well, nothing.

The Cubs were, in fact, so unfazed that they celebrated a postseason berth in their locker room in grand fashion after being shut out by the Pirates and, as a result, losing a weekend series at Wrigley Field. They were so indifferent that a near-perfect masterpiece by Arrieta made people forget the Pirates won the series and spurred predictions of the outcome of the NL Wild Card game a week and a half in advance.

With Arrieta in line to start the one-game playoff opener and a young lineup that can hit from top to bottom, one could argue the Cubs are in the best position to make a deep postseason run. With Carlos Martinez now out for the season with a shoulder strain and the absence of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ rotation now looks more vulnerable when matched up against either of their division postseason counterparts.

So the question that remains is: where does this leave the Pirates? Has the outlook for the next eight days already doomed them to a similar fate from last season, or does it actually put them in a position as an underdog to defy low expectations and maybe outlast the two other members of baseball’s best division trio?

We’ve seen the results of what can happen with this team when expected to take control (i.e. their NL Central Division record), and we’ve been stunned by their success when they’re expected to flounder, like their 11-1 combined record against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets, the leaders of the NL West and NL East divisions, respectively.

Maybe the Pirates are subject to being on the wrong end of a season of destiny in St. Louis, or a mystical turn of long-maligned playoff fortunes in Chicago. Either scenario would be shocking to few at this point.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Pirates are in position to defy those expectations and write an epic chapter of their own, led by one of the game’s brightest stars in Andrew McCutchen, and one of its best young pitchers in Gerrit Cole.

It all depends on which 2015 Pirates team shows up: the one that dropped three extra-inning losses in St. Louis in May, the one that battled St. Louis to win three of a four-game series right before the All-Star break, or the one that might be imploding near the end of the regular season?

We’ve seen each of these stories before during the regular season. But as the Pirates’ past two postseason appearances have shown us, anything can happen in October.

That might be the only certainty we can depend on.

Posted in Sports Talk Radio