Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Wandy Rodriguez takes the mound Tuesday Night for the Pittsburgh Pirates against his former teammates from Houston. Normally, you’d think this would be a virtual LOCK. The Bucs are in a must-win position given their battle for one of the two National League Wildcard spots. Houston is 42-93, and in danger of losing 110 games this season.
Yet…Pittsburgh LOST to Houston last night 5-1 laying -210 on the Vegas moneyline!
And, last night’s loss was a continuation of a collapse that’s been going on for a few weeks. A bizarre collapse that’s come against a weak schedule! Pittsburgh has managed a sterling 4-2 record against St. Louis…the team they most needed to beat in the Wildcard race for what will probably be the #2 spot behind Atlanta. Yet, they’ve been awful vs. what was mostly a string of non-playoff teams.
BUCS HAVE LOST THE MAGIC (last 20 games excluding St. Louis)
0-1 vs. Houston
1-2 at Milwaukee
0-3 at San Diego
0-3 vs. Milwaukee
1-3 vs. LA Dodgers
1-2 vs. San Diego
2-2 vs. Arizona
That’s 3-13 their last 16 games against teams who aren’t the Cardinals, and 5-15 if you take it back to the split against The Diamondbacks. The Dodgers are a playoff contender. But, nobody else on that list has a chance for the postseason. On the night of August 5th, Pittsburgh was 61-46 after finishing a series with the Reds. They only had to take care of business against a weak schedule to tighten their grip on one of the two Wildcard spots. On the morning of September 4th, the Pirates are looking at this Wildcard scenario.
NL WILDCARD RACE (2 spots available)
St. Louis 73-62
LA Dodgers 73-63 (a half-game out of WC)
Pittsburgh 70-64 (2.5 games out of WC)
Atlanta is in great shape for one of the two spots given their head start and their remaining schedule. The Braves only have to go 14-13 to finish with a 90-72 record, and that’s likely to be enough given past history. They’re certainly capable of a stronger finish that would make TWO teams catching them from behind even less likely.
That leaves three teams fighting for the last spot.
ST. LOUIS: has been getting healthy after playing shorthanded much of the season, and is now well-positioned to close strong against a weak schedule. They didn’t exactly sparkle against Washington and Pittsburgh last week (2-5 on the road), but that was after they took two of three in Cincinnati. A 4-6 road trip against tough opponents is in the rear-view mirror. The sailing is going to be pretty smooth the next two weeks.
LOS ANGELES: just made a blockbuster trade that made gave them additional weapons they can use in the pennant race. This is rare for late in the season. Just another one of the perks for deep-pocketed teams! Disgruntled stars in other cities perk up at the chance to play in Hollywood.
PITTSBURGH: isn’t getting healthier (if anything, guys are breaking down after playing over their heads for four months), and there aren’t going to be any blockbuster trades sending millionaires to Pittsburgh in these final weeks of the season. If this were a long footrace, it would appear that the Pirates have hit a wall just as their closest competitors are starting their finishing kicks. Well, it looks like that moment was two weeks ago! The Pirates have had few nights in recent action where they looked like a playoff team.
Yet, the remaining schedules make it clear that Pittsburgh still has a chance to rally back and grab a playoff spot. Here’s what these three teams have through the end of the season. Assume a three-game series unless it’s otherwise noted:
PITTSBURGH: Houston (2), Cubs, at Cincinnati, at Cubs (4), Milwaukee, at Houston, at NY Mets (4), Cincinnati, Atlanta. (6 games vs. playoff contenders)
ST. LOUIS: NY Mets (2), Milwaukee, at San Diego, at LA Dodgers (4), Houston, at Cubs, at Houston, Washington, Cincinnati. (10 games vs. playoff contenders)
LOS ANGELES: San Diego (2), at San Francisco, at Arizona (2), vs. St. Louis (4), at Washington, at Cincinnati, at San Diego, Colorado, San Francisco (16 games vs. playoff contenders)
That’s 6 for Pittsburgh, 10 for St. Louis, and 16 for the Dodgers in terms of games remaining vs. playoff contenders. And…Pittsburgh’s six come at the end of the season when they may be playing lame duck opponents. It’s possible the Reds may be locked into a #1 or #2 seed by then (they’ll have one of the two, but they’ll have no motivation to win if the spot is already locked in stone), and the Braves may have clinched home field in the Wildcard game.
The Dodgers upgraded their roster. Have they upgraded enough?
It’s going to be a fun race to watch. Handicappers will be able to make a lot of money if the can read the tea leaves down the stretch. At the moment, the leaves seem to be saying that:
*Pittsburgh is out of gas, desperately looking for a second wind.
*St. Louis has the horses to take care of business vs. lesser foes.
*Los Angeles has no time for introductions!
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