OK, so now THIS is the biggest series of the year

The late afternoon yesterday was not kind to the Pirates: in Pittsburgh, Chris Heisey hit his second home run of the afternoon (and only his seventh of the year!) to help the Reds steal a 3-2 win from the Pirates. In St. Louis, the Cardinals turned a 6-4 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning into a 9-6 win over the Cubs. The effect was dramatic: instead of being tied with the Cardinals, which would’ve been the result had the Pirates won and the Cardinals lost, the Pirates now head into Busch Stadium down two games to both the Cardinals and the Brewers for the second wild card and NL Central lead.

That’s the sort of thing I was talking about in calling yesterday an “opportunity” if not a “must win.” Two games back to two teams on September 1 when you only have three games left against each team is not a great place to be. It is not, by any means, an insurmountable deficit, but the Pirates could play well against the Cardinals this week, take two wins from them, and probably still find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture. If that happens, that means that the Pirates will have taken 8 of 12 from the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds, and still not broken into the NL playoff picture with a month full of road games ahead of them. That is not so good.

And still, what can the Pirates do, but keep on winning two of three and hoping that everything else falls into place around them? That probably will happen if they keep on winning series, and certainly, finding a way to get two wins in St. Louis to win a third straight series against the Cardinals/Brewers would be a huge thing for the Pirates. That’s all that really matters right now; we can worry about the rest of it later.

As you likely expected if you paid attention to Neal Huntington’s comments yesterday, the Pirates didn’t make any moves at the waiver trade deadline at midnight last night. That means that their playoff roster is more or less locked in to guys on the 40-man roster right now (this is a rule change from the off-season), with a possible injury exception for someone like Charlie Morton, who would have to be replaced with a player from within the organization. The rosters have expanded today, and with that the Pirates have called up Tony Sanchez, Stolmy Pimentel, and Gerrit Cole, who if you recall was technically in Single-A at this time yesterday afternoon. I would expect a few more call-ups after Indianapolis’s season ends today, but bringing up Pimentel to put in the bullpen and Sanchez to become the backup catcher make sense as the immediate moves to be made.

Cole will start today, and he’s been excellent in his two starts back from the disabled list. In those two starts, he’s thrown 13 innings, struck out 15, walked five, and held the Braves and Cardinals to a total of four runs. Given that his first start came after a seven-game losing streak and his second start came after the Pirates lost consecutive games to the Brewers and Cardinals, they might be the two biggest starts by any Pirate pitcher made all year. The only caveat I’d apply to those starts is that he seemed to run out of gas a little bit around the fifth/sixth innings both times. That’s not necessarily unexpected given the long layoff that he had with his two injuries, and he did seem stronger in the second start than he did in the first. Still, I’d expect him to be on a relatively short leash today, given the way he’s faded and given the magnitude of this game. All that being said, Cole is really the only Pirate starter that I’d want on the mound in a must-win game at this point in time, and so starting this particular series off with him pitching is a good place for the Pirates to be.

Lance Lynn starts against Cole for the second time in less than a week. As I mentioned last Tuesday, he’s been pitching well lately, but the Pirates fared pretty well against him last time out. They forced him to throw 105 pitches in six innings, and even though they only scored twice, they had six hits and drew three walks off of him in those six innings of work. Hopefully, a similar performance at the plate will result in more runs today.

Yadier Molina has returned to the Cardinals’ lineup since the last time the Pirates saw the Cards. He’s got five hits in his first three games back. On the Pirates’ side, Andrew McCutchen had two hits and is hopefully coming out of the funk that started when he tweaked his side injury in the Cole vs. Lynn tilt last Tuesday. It is best to think of this series as a three-game playoff series between the Pirates and Cardinals; whoever wins two games this week will find themselves in a much stronger position than they’re in today.

First pitch is at 2:15. Enjoy your Labor Day, unless you’re in the Shenango Valley, in which case, enjoy your Buhl Day.

Image credit: Kate Davidson, Flickr

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.