For much of the first half of 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates rode to prominence in the NL Central by beating the teams they were supposed to beat. The Pirates' first big run was when they won 11 of 13 from the Mets, Brewers, Astros, and Cubs, taking them from 18-16 to 29-18. Their pivotal nine game winning streak started with one win against the Reds, then it continued against the Angels, Mariners, and Brewers.
Since the All-Star Break, that trend has flipped. The Pirates have basically tread water against medicore teams, and they've managed to maintain their place in the NL Central race by beating the snot out of the Cardinals. I'm not complaining here; I never thought this Pirate team would finish with the best record in the NL, and I've always figured that winning the Central and then pouring it on with the top part of the rotation in the playoffs was this team's best path to the playoffs and success beyodn that this year. Being tied for first place on Labor Day means that they're well-positioned to do that.
Here's the catch: they've got to start beating up on bad teams again. The final Cardinal series is waiting for them this weekend, and if they can beat the Brewers two or three times this week, chances are good that they'll start the series in first place. After they play the Cardinals this weekend, they play the Rangers next week, then 10 of their final 16 games are against the Padres and Cubs, with the other six coming against the Reds. If the Pirates win two games against the Brewers this week and seven of those ten against the Padres and Cubs, that puts them at 88 wins. That means that if they can split their final 12 games with the Cardinals, Rangers, and Reds, they'll win 94 games. I think they'll need at least 94 games to win the division. This is September Baseball. There's no time to take a series off now.
This all starts this afternoon against the Brewers. Charlie Morton will take the mound against Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg's been mostly used in relief to this point, but he's got a sparkly 1.94 ERA this year despite a low strikeout rate and a 1.44 K/BB ratio. He made 15 starts with Triple-A Nashville and struck out a ton of hitters there (87 in 74 2/3 innings), but he got hit like crazy, served up some home runs, went 0-9 (which, pointless stat, I know), and had a 5.79 ERA. Basically: I think the Pirates could score some runs on him today, despite that 1.94 ERA.
The first pitch today is at 2:10. The Cardinals and Reds start at 1:10.