Today was why the Pittsburgh Pirates traded three minor leaguers to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez. They did not know the significance of August 29, 2012 at the time of the deal. But it has arrived and the Pirates are facing a critical test.
On July 28, the Pirates were a mere two games back of division-leading Cincinnati. But a 9-16 record in August and a surge by the Reds took them out of the division race and saw them fall back in the wild card chase.
Playoff thoughts this season were giving way to feeling good about finally having a winning season.
Then came last night. James McDonald, Pedro Alvarez and the rest of the Pirates gave a thorough spanking to the world champion Cardinals. They won 9-0 in PNC, pulling the Bucs to within two games of a wild card spot with 33 games left to play.
It brings the Pirates to today's game. Rodriguez has been less than stellar since the trade with Houston. But a win today against the Cardinals would bring the Pirates to within one game of the playoffs.
After the Cardinals' series, the Pirates hit a pretty soft part of their schedule. When today's game is in the books, only nine of the Pirates' remaining 32 games will be against teams with a winning record.
They will leave Pittsburgh for three against Milwaukee, come home for three against Houston and three more against Chicago before going to Cincinnati on September 10.
The Cardinals, who are in front of the Pirates, and the Dodgers, who trail them, each have much more challenging schedules. St. Louis has two series against the Nationals, and plays Los Angeles and Cincinnati.
The Dodgers play the Cardinals, Giants, Nationals and Reds down the stretch.
If the Pirates win today and beat the teams they are supposed to beat down the stretch, they should be able to make October plans.
First thing is first. Wandy and company need to win tonight.