Pittsburgh Pirates Get Back on Track with Jeff Karstens

Paul Francis SullivanChief Writer IAugust 26, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 25:  Jeff Karstens #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during the game on August 25, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There has been a tremendous change in the culture for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The biggest sign of the change is the fact that the Pirates went on a recent four-game slide and they lost a pair of series' to the lowly Padres.

And the concern in Pittsburgh was not about how this would affect their first shot at a winning season in 20 years. The worries were about how this would affect the Pirates' playoff chances.

On Saturday, Jeff Karstens was magnificent before an injury removed him from the Pirates' 4-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. He even added an RBI single for good measure in the Pirates' four-run fifth inning.

The Pirates have not won a home series since the beginning of the month, but despite a recent slump, this team does not appear to be in danger of slipping under .500. Sunday's game puts them at 68-58—10 full games over .500.

If the Bucs simply go 14-22 the rest of the way, fans will experience their first winning season since the Francisco Cabrera single.

Despite fighting in vain to reach the 82-win level for two decades, they, incredibly, have bigger fish to fry.

There are three teams within one game of the second wild-card spot: The newly retooled Los Angeles Dodgers, defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Pirates.

The Pirates may not have the superstars of Los Angeles or the playoff experience of St. Louis, but they have three very important elements on their side.

They have three upcoming head-to-head games with St. Louis starting Monday. A hot streak could have them leapfrog into a playoff spot heading into September.

Their schedule is pretty soft the rest of the way. Series' against the Brewers, Astros, Cubs and Mets await.

And nobody is expecting them to win. The Dodgers just committed to a quarter of a billion dollars of new contracts. The Cardinals have a title to defend.

The Pirates should be the epitome of "just happy to be here." And teams with nothing the lose can be the most dangerous.

Maybe Jeff Karstens got them back on track. The Pirates having a winning season is almost inevitable. And that, for Pittsburgh fans, is a wonderful thing.