While there was rightly a lot of focus put on the Pirates' series in Busch Stadium this week, it could be argued that their three-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend is actually a little bit bigger. As it stands right now, the Pirates have a pretty firm grasp on some kind of National League playoff spot (the nature of which is to be determined, of course), but they don't quite have a chokehold. That's because have played relatively well lately to hang on the fringes of contention. They're currently six games out of the second wild card spot, which puts them 8 1/2 games behind the Pirates. That's quite a distance with 42 games left on the schedule, but it doesn't make the Pirates completely safe quite yet. Winning this weekend series would put even more distance between the two clubs. Of course winning this series would also keep the Pirates in first place, which is certainly the ultimate goal.
The Pirates have generally contained their slumps to six or so games this year, with the one exception being the Cubs/Phillies/A's nine-game swoon that happened around the Fourth of July. As I mentioned earlier today, for as bad as the Pirates have played over the last week, they were maybe two hits (or, a caught fly ball and a hit, if you like) away from sweeping the Cardinals. That means that they can't be playing as badly as their 1-5 record this last week indicates. At this point, what the Pirates really need to do is to play a complete game from start to finish a couple of nights in a row. They did it on Wednesday, but then lost the path again on Thursday. Tonight, PNC Park will be full of 35,000+ raucous and nervous Pirate fans. This is a good night to start turning things around.
Jeff Locke starts for the Pirates tonight. He has been awfully uneven since the All-Star break and he makes me more nervous than any other Pirate pitcher right now. Gerrit Cole starts for the Pirates tonight. The Pirates gave him a few extra days off after his last start against the Marlins, and this is certainly the biggest stage he'll pitch on since his debut. I'm really interested to see how he handles the huge situation. This is the sort of game we all dreamed Gerrit Cole would start when the Pirates picked him two summers ago. Brandon McCarthy goes for the Diamondbacks. He's been awfully uneven all year, though he's been pretty good in five of his last six starts. Still, he doesn't strike a ton of hitters out, and striking out is the Pirates' biggest offensive weakness.
The first pitch tonight is at 7:05. The Cardinals and Cubs just started (it's 4:30 as I type this) and the Cubs have an early lead. The Reds are playing in Milwaukee and starting at 8:10.