There are 20 days left in the Major League baseball season. The Pittsburgh Pirates have 20 games left. Largely, the way that we remember this 2012 season will be dictated by these 20 games. The Pirates need 10 wins to clinch their first winning season since 1992; I don't think that finishing 19-33 is an accomplishment, but it is something that will be remembered. The Pirates probably need 15 wins to have a realistic chance at the second wild card. Baseball Prospectus currently projects the race for the NL wild card #2 thusly:
- Cardinals: 87 wins
- Dodgers: 83 wins
- Pirates: 82 wins
- Brewers: 82 wins
- Diamondbacks: 82 wins
- Phillies: 81 wins
I've adjusted the Cardinals down to 85 in my head, because they've been nearly as bad as the Pirates lately. This is probably not wise. They have 18 games remaining; three in LA this weekend, then nine against the Cubs and Astros (six of those nine), then they finish with six against the Nationals and Reds, neither of whom will have anything to play for at that point in the season. They will probably win more than nine of those games, if we're being honest with ourselves.
Still, 85 wins should be more than enough to put the Cardinals past the Pirates. Think about this: the Pirates would need to win 15 of their last 20 games to even have a chance at catching the Cards, most likely. The Pirates recorded their 55th win on July 27th. That means they've won 15 of their last 42. This is a tall task.
And yet! The Pirates can't possibly be as bad as they've been lately. As down as we all get about this kind of thing, they're not a 15-27 team. They're better than that. Maybe it's better to start there than at 10 wins or 15 wins in these last 20 games: Win one game. Play a complete baseball game from start to finish, where routine plays get made and hits get strung together and the Pirates score more runs than their opponents. This is not a tall task against the current incarnation of the Chicago Cubs, last weekend notwithstanding.
There are a million "what-if" scenarios to play through right now. If the Pirates had just won three of these last six games — something they certainly had ample opportunity to do — they'd be tied with the Cardinals. We could go even wider; if they'd won just 18 of these last 42 games instead of 15 they'd be tied with the Cardinals. None of these things really matter because the Pirates didn't win those games. They're over. All that's left for the team now is to play the games in front of them, try to win as many as possible, and let the universe do what it will with the other teams. The last six weeks have been disastrous, but the last three weeks don't have to be, even if the Pirates can't play themselves back into the playoffs.
There are 20 one-game seasons left in 2012. The first one is today, in Chicago, at 2:20. James McDonald and Chris Rusin.