The Pittsburgh Pirates are in serious need of a good showing against the St. Louis Cardinals. Going into the series opener on Aug. 30, the Pirates were one game back of the Cardinals, mainly due to two losses earlier in the week against the lowly Milwaukee Brewers. But for this first game against much stronger St. Louis, Pittsburgh rose back up for a 5-0 win to even the NL Central back up.
The last time the Cardinals came to Pittsburgh, they lost the first four games of a five game series last month and gave the Pirates breathing room in the division. But Pittsburgh has slipped off since then and given St. Louis room to climb back into first place. As such, the Pirates will need to sweep this series to get the lead back after this weekend.
Pittsburgh took the first step in that goal by completely shutting St. Louis down under Francisco Liriano. The ace improved to 15-6 by giving up only two hits over eight innings, while Garrett Jones had his way with the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller by driving in four of the Pirates’ five runs.
The victory merely evened the Cardinals and Pirates at 78-56, while they stayed 3 1/2 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. Avoiding a likely one-game wild card playoff with Cincinnati is extremely important, as St. Louis and Pittsburgh have five games left with each other to get some distance. But if the Pirates keep losing games to inferior teams like the Brewers and San Francisco Giants, like they have in recent days, it will all cancel out.
With Pittsburgh four victories away from its first winning season since 1992, that once all important goal has become a drop in the bucket. The bigger goals of a divisional title and actual playoff victories have become more serious, and to that end, the Pirates could use an extra boost.
St. Louis and Pittsburgh will remain tied after the weekend if they split their next two games. Yet in a division this tight, neither team can afford to pass up extra victories. While being tied in the NL Central and just getting closer to 82 wins used to be good enough for the Pirates, it clearly isn’t or can’t be enough anymore.