Heading into a crucial three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, things were looking up for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After all, the Pirates had won seven out of their last 10 games, as they trailed both the first-place Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers by just 2.0 games in the National League Central Division.
Now, the team is right back where it was one week ago.
After losing today to the Cardinals for the third straight game, the Pirates fell to 5.0 games behind in the division race.
This was, by far, the most important series to date in 2014 for the Pirates, as it marked the final time they would face St. Louis this season.
The overall goal was to take at least two out of the three games in this series. That way, they would be knocking on the Cardinals' door.
Instead, the Pirates were swept in St. Louis, and they may have just seen their chances of winning the NL Central for the first time fly out the window.
Now, there are still 24 games remaining on the schedule for the Pirates. With zero games remaining against the Cardinals, however, it would take a pretty big collapse for the Pirates to overcome the hole they have dug themselves into.
For the Pirates, it may be time to start strictly focusing on winning the wild card.
To make matters worse, however, Pittsburgh now trails two teams (the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves) for the second and final wild-card spot.
At least the Pirates still have to play both the Brewers and the Braves before the regular season ends.
On September 19, the Pirates will begin a three-game series hosting Milwaukee. The following series, they will travel to Atlanta to square off against the Braves in a four-game set.
Reaching the postseason is certainly an attainable goal for the Pirates, as the Brewers are currently spiraling downward, having lost seven straight games. They trail Milwaukee by only 2.5 games, which can be made up in just one series if the gap in the standings remains the same over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Atlanta has failed to play consistent baseball during the second half of this season, going 20-24 after starting the season 52-32 prior to the All-Star Break in July.
The Pirates must put this roadblock behind them and rebound in their next series, which starts Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
While any hope of a division title now seems to be gone for Pittsburgh, the Pirates are still right in the thick of things for the wild-card race.
If they can regain their form and return to their winning ways starting Friday, the Pirates should return to the postseason for the second consecutive season.
*Statistics Courtesy of Baseball Reference
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!