It is against the National League East that the Pittsburgh Pirates have shown the most promise. So far in the season, they are 2-2 even against the division-leading Atlanta Braves. They're actually 3-2 against the second-place Washington Nationals, and 2-1 versus both the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins. It's encouraging that these tallies were run up against the strongest division in the National League.
By hosting the Mets in PNC Park early this week, the Bucs will have played at least one series against each team in this one division. And they stand to do well against their league's New York team, at least at home.
Although they surprised everyone with a strong start, the New Yorkers are tied for third in their division, and not likely to be tougher than Atlanta or Washington. And while there are no guarantees, Pittsburgh has other reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming Mets series.
First, the Pirates tend to do well against this team at home. Second, they will have two of their best starters, Erik Bedard and James McDonald pitching two games. McDonald, in particular, once pitched eight innings of shutout ball against the Mets.
And the third starter in the series, Charlie Morton, is no worse than anyone else in the rest of the Bucs' rotation. Moreover, the Mets have a notoriously leaky bullpen, meaning that even if one of the home team's starters gets into trouble, there is always the possibility of a late-inning rally.
All this is more than the Pirates can say about their results against National League Central teams. The only team in the central division that Pittsburgh is leading in the season series is Houston, and that was the result of an extra-inning win in what was a "tied" (at the end of nine innings) "rubber" game.
Despite losing series to the division's two top-ranked teams, the Bucs haven't had the "benefit" of playing games against the two weakest teams in the division. And both of these, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs have given Pittsburgh fits from time to time in the recent past.
On the other hand, the Pirates haven't done too badly against Western division squads, except for the torrid Los Angeles Dodgers, the only team that swept them so far this season. The West's second-place holder, San Francisco—like the Central's Cincinnati—is now 2-1 against the Pittsburgh, but the Bucs have winning records against both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
Even though the Central division is arguably the National League's weakest, the Pirates (so far) have had relatively little success here. They will have to turn this around if they are to win even a Wild Card slot. For the time being, though, it is the team's success outside its division, particularly against the East, that is keeping it competitive.
A 2-1 result against the Mets, or better yet a sweep, would go a long way to keeping the Pirates going. The latter, better result would put them back at the .500 mark. In fact, it may well be how their margin of victory against the National League East compares with their deficits elsewhere that determines whether the team finishes above or below .500 this year.