Technically, that's not true, with Pittsburgh in third place behind both Milwaukee and St. Louis. But of the two, Milwaukee is the bigger barrier by far.
That's because Milwaukee is the one team in the National League Central that the Pittsburgh Pirates have not been able to beat at all so far (they're 2-1 against St. Louis). Put another way, if the Pirates had a winning record, or even one of 2-3 in their five games against the Brewers, they'd now be in first place in their division.
Pittsburgh just went 2-1 in PNC Park against the Houston Astros, the other team in the Central Division that used to give the Bucs the most trouble. More to the point, the Pirates are now 7-2 in the season series against this erstwhile bugaboo, having swept three in Minute Maid Park, and going 2-1 at home against them earlier this year.
Pittsburgh plays its next series against the Chicago Cubs, the only Central Division team that they beat in the season series in their epic 105-loss season last year. There are no guarantees of course, but if things run true to their previous form, the Bucs stand to win perhaps two out of three from this "penultimate" ranking team, against which they are 4-2 so far this year.
The Pirates are 5-1 so far in the season series against Cincinnati, with all these games being played at Great American Field, where Pittsburgh had trouble winning games last year. The remaining nine games will be played at PNC Park, where they've held their own in the past.
Pittsburgh stands to play 13 more, possibly decisive games against the St. Louis Cardinals later this season. But so far, with the Bucs leading 2-1 in the season series against this team, there is no particular cause for fear.
The ONE National League Central team that the Pirates have reason to fear is the Milwaukee Brewers. Not only have they been blanked by this team so far in 2011, but their recent track record against this team is poor; 5-13 in 2010; 5-11 in 2009, a horrendous 1-14 in 2008 and 6-10 in 2007. One has to go back to 2006 for Pittsburgh to have a winning record (9-7) against Milwaukee.
The Pirates are above .500 because they have victorious records against American League teams (8-7) in Interleague play, and on the road, 24-21, thereby erasing two of their former biggest "jinxes." The third bugaboo is Milwaukee.
Current standings suggest that if Pittsburgh can produce a winning record against Milwaukee (not likely after counting the poor start), or even over the remaining 10 games (within the realm of possibility), the team may pull off the unlikeliest of comebacks and capture the National League central division crown.
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