The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Hunt for a Black October

Jared StonesiferContributor IIIAugust 29, 2014

Pittsburgh Pirates Jason Grilli, center, celebrates with Jeff Locke, left, after beating the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Wild-Card playoff baseball game, 6-2, in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The Pirates advance to the NLDS playoff series against the St,. Louis Cardinals. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

It’s not a stretch to say the Pittsburgh Pirates’ weak September schedule could propel them into the playoffs if the team takes care of business against a trio of last-place teams.

The Pirates play host this weekend to a faltering Cincinnati Reds squad that currently sits four games under .500, a team that is all but eliminated from the playoff hunt. The Pirates then head to St. Louis for a pivotal three-game set that could go a long way toward determining the Bucs’ playoffs future.

But after that, the seas part and the sun comes out in a big way. The Pirates start a stretch of 13 games against last-place teams that are a combined 43 games under .500.

The schedule opens up with a three-game set in Chicago followed by a four-game series in Philadelphia. The Bucs then head home for another three-game set against the Cubs and follow with a three-game series against Boston.

The Pirates currently sit two games out of the wild card in the National League and four games out of first place in the National League Central Division. There are 29 games left on the schedule before the regular season closes on Sept. 28, giving the team plenty of time to play catch-up in the standings.

The time is coming for the Pirates to make their surge. They took care of business last weekend in Milwaukee, taking two of three from the first-place Brewers on the road. They took care of business at home this week too, taking two out of three from the second-place Cardinals.

Baseball Prospectus currently gives the Pirates a 30 percent change at making the postseason, a number that should rise substantially in the coming weeks.

That’s because these teams are in last place for a reason. That’s also not to mention most of those last-place teams, in particular the Chicago Cubs, have already begun a process that’s very familiar to Pirates fans: calling up prospects and letting them sink or swim in the month of September.

That’s not to say the Pirates should sweep all of those series. The prospects getting called up will be there for a reason, even if they have very little experience in the majors.

But taking two out of three from those teams, even on the road, isn’t too much to ask given the Pirates’ recent strong play against teams above them in the standings.

If the Bucs take care of business like they should, the stage will be set for an epic end-of-September showdown with three games against Milwaukee at home and four games against Atlanta on the road.

Nothing is out of the question yet, not even a first-place finish for the Pirates. If the team can manage to take care of this trio of last-place teams, a sea of black could again wash over PNC Park this October with a second consecutive playoff series in the Steel City.

The hunt for a black October is on.