With one milestone out of the way in 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates' sights are now set on clinching their first playoff berth since 1992. The team's magic number is down to two, which could allow the Pirates to clinch a spot in the postseason rather soon, given the Washington Nationals' schedule. While that accomplishment is incredible in its own right, the team missed a golden opportunity to solidify its hold on the NL Central.
On Sept. 12, just one day after returning from a road trip that saw the team sweep the Texas Rangers, the Pirates began their final 11-game homestand of the season. Not only that, but the Bucs began the stay on the North Shore in a tie for first place with the St. Louis Cardinals. Eight games against the division-worst Chicago Cubs and the unimpressive San Diego Padres awaited a team that possessed the fourth-best home record in MLB at the time.
All told, the Pirates managed to emerge from the final stint in Pittsburgh a disappointing 5-6, leaving the Bucs in a tie with the Cincinnati Reds for the two wild-card positions. Both teams sit two games back of the Cardinals as of Monday.
For the Cardinals, the final six games of the season couldn't set up more favorably. The team finishes the campaign at Busch Stadium with three-game sets against the Nationals and the Cubs. The Redbirds are 48-27 at home this season and have enjoyed success against both upcoming opponents. The Cards swept the Nationals in a three-game series during the first half of the year and are 9-7 against the Cubs.
The Reds are in a similar situation as they will enjoy the final six games of the season at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati is 48-26 at home this season and will face off against the New York Mets in the first series of its homestand. The Reds are 3-0 against the Mets this year. The all-important three-game set against the Pirates to close out the year will likely decide home-field advantage in a wild-card game if the Cardinals don't falter.
The Pirates will take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field, as the Bucs are 10-6 against the North Siders this season. The Pirates' 8-8 record with the Reds this season only adds to the intrigue should everything come down to the final series of the season.
Things kick off Monday night for the Pirates as Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35 ERA) takes on Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42) at 8:05 p.m. EDT. Tuesday's probable starters are Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23) and Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52), while Wednesday's pitchers look to be Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.88) and Jake Arrieta (3-2, 3.94).