Pittsburgh Pirates: Ranking the Bucs' 10 Most Important Remaining Series
Through 114 games this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates remain on track for a playoff berth in the National League. Despite having multiple opportunities to fold, the Bucs have remained resilient in their quest to put years of losing behind them.
As the Pirates enter the home stretch, the good news for this team is that it still has a good chunk of games remaining against the likes of the Astros, Cubs and Padres. The bad news is pretty much all games against teams other than these three will be tough sledding.
The Pirates' remaining schedule includes multiple series against divisional rivals, annual nemeses and the ghosts of Jerry Meals and Sid Bream.
10. Pirates vs. Brewers, September 18-20
The Pirates will be seeing the Brewers often over the next two months, with three different series scheduled against the Bucs' division rival.
The Bucs traditionally have performed rather poorly against Milwaukee, and given that the Brewers are having a bit of a down year the Pirates cannot afford their usual struggles against this team. The Pirates have too many games remaining against the Reds and Cardinals to be weighed down by the Brewers.
A mid-September series against the Brewers would normally be much higher on a list like this, but the Pirates have some buffer in that this series is surrounded by games against the Cubs and Astros.
9. Pirates vs. Dodgers, August 13-16
At this point in the season, the Cincinnati Reds have staked out a decent lead in the N.L. Central and the Pirates' most likely route to the playoffs is through one of the two Wild Card positions.
Along with the Cardinals and Braves, the Dodgers represent the biggest competition to Pittsburgh for one of these berths. Though the Dodgers may be the weakest of the four contenders, they are one of four teams competing for two slots nonetheless.
It is important for the Pirates to right the ship immediately and put together a strong performance against the Dodgers in the series that begins Monday night.
8. Pirates vs. Brewers, August 24-26
In the Brewers' second appearance on this list, the Pirates host Ryan Braun and company to begin a nine game stretch that includes two series against Milwaukee and one against the St. Louis Cardinals.
While the Brewers are having a down year, they remain the Pirates' nemesis nonetheless. This nine game stretch will not be easy, and it's important for the Bucs to get off on the right foot at home.
7. Pirates at Mets, September 24-27
This four-game set against the Mets isn't particularly noteworthy, yet it begins a difficult ten-game finish to the season that also includes series against the Reds and Braves.
The Mets have remained competitive all season, so this road series will certainly be no cakewalk. If the Pirates are still in a playoff position at this point, every game will be huge and they will have to be careful not to look ahead to their two season-ending showdowns.
That said, there is a good chance the Mets will be fully out of contention at this point, and the Pirates could be in for a bit of a break if the Mets decide to rest some of their veteran players.
6. Pirates at Brewers, August 31-September 2
Despite the quality of the teams that make up the rest of this list, it's easy to make a case that this series should be ranked higher.
Yes, the Brewers are having a down year. Yes, the remaining series are all against the Reds, Braves and Cardinals. Yes, this is the third series against the Brewers to already grace the list.
But for the Pirates, beating the Brewers in Miller Park is a very dangerous proposition. Many recent seasons have gone sideways in Milwaukee, and if the Bucs have a bad weekend every Pittsburgh fan will worry that their dreams are coming crashing down yet again.
5. Pirates at Reds, September 10-12
It is likely that the September series against the Reds will have minimal impact on the N.L. Central standings, as Cincinnati seems to be in a good position to claim the division crown and leave the Pirates and Cardinals fighting for a Wild Card berth.
But that doesn't mean these games get any easier. The Reds are a very good team and may be an even better team in September than they are now, depending upon Joey Votto's successful return from injury.
Add in the fact that these teams don't like each other, and you have a pretty big early September series on tap at Great American Ballpark. At some point in this series, the Pirates are likely to seek revenge for Aroldis Chapman beaning Andrew McCutchen in early August.
4. Pirates vs. Cardinals, August 27-29
The National League playoff race may very well come down to the Pirates and Cardinals battling for the final Wild Card spot.
While the Cardinals have trailed the Pirates in the standings for most of the season, they still have the best run differential in the league and remain a huge threat to the Bucs' playoff aspirations. The Cardinals continue to fight bullpen issues, but if 2011 is any indicator this team can get very hot down the stretch.
Head-to-head matchups with St. Louis will be critical to the Pirates as the Bucs look to maintain their 2.5-game lead in the Wild Card race
3. Pirates vs. Reds, September 28-30
The Pirates' second-to-last series of the season comes against the division-leading reds. While the Bucs at least get the the Reds at home, this series will not be easy.
There is a good chance the Reds will have locked up the N.L. Central at this point. If they haven't this series takes on a much greater meaning, but even if they have Cincinnati will still be playing for playoff positioning and is not likely to be resting anyone.
It is a testament to what the Pirates have accomplished that they have two remaining series with greater importance than this one.
2. Pirates at Cardinals, August 17-19
Miller Park may be the Pirates' house of horrors, but it was in St. Louis last season where the Bucs' 2011 season showed its first signs of unraveling.
There was nothing fluky about the Pirates losing two of three at Busch Stadium last season, as the Bucs' pitch-to-contact rotation simply looked overmatched against the Cardinals' stacked lineup. The Pirates shouldn't have that problem this season, as their record is supported by their performance.
Yet a road series in mid-August against the team chasing you for a playoff berth is no small task. Especially when that team is the defending World Series champion and has dominated the division for much of the past decade.
1. Pirates vs. Braves, October 1-3
As do many playoff contenders, the Pirates find themselves playing in many important series over the remaining two months of the season. Yet perhaps no series any team will play comes close having the potential impact that this one does.
There is the literal impact of this series: The Pirates and the Braves are in line for the two National League Wild Card berths, with the Cardinals and Dodgers nipping at their heels. If the Cardinals pass these teams, for example, then the Pirates and Braves will play each other during the season's final games with a playoff spot on the line.
Then there is the symbolic impact, as the Pirates look to chase away the ghosts of Sid Bream and Jerry Meals forever. Of all teams to have to surpass for the Pirates to make it back to the playoffs, there is no better obstacle than the Atlanta Braves.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!