PITTSBURGH - Hidden in the Pittsburgh Pirates' clinching of their first playoff berth in nineteen years is the thought that they may be out of the playoffs as quickly as they find themselves in them.
With four losses in their final five games, the Pirates (92-70) lost their NL Central crown to the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished just a single game ahead of the Bucs with a 93-69 record. This results in the Pirates taking the wild card berth, which could possibly be the worst thing they could have forseen. Despite having the third best record in the NL and fourth best record in baseball, the Bucs are forced to face the defending champion San Francisco Giants, who finished with an MLB-best 97-65 record.
"We obviously weren't planning on losing the division," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Division champs would have been a great title to add to the resume for this group of guys. But with that said, we put ourselves in this position and we're gonna do everything we can to win our way through the playoffs."
The Pirates dropped the rubber match against Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon, 6-2, as the top four in their lineup went a combined 1-17.
The Buccos traveled to Milwaukee for their final series of the year, with the Brewers, who had a great season of their own, looking to finish out the year on a high note against the playoff-bound Pirates.
Three errors plagued the Bucs in the opener as they fell, 5-3, despite a near comeback in the eighth thanks to RBI hits from Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
A Charlie Morton gem the next night (6 IP, 0 ER, 5 K) allowed the Bucs to hang on to a share of the divison lead with a 6-1 win. Walker and McCutchen again had stellar nights to lead the team, as Walker went 3-5 with 2 runs and a homer. Cutch one-upped him, belting 2 homers and going 4-5 on the night. Chris Snyder also homered.
With first place on the line in the regular season finale, the Pirates put forth a last ditch comeback attempt but fell short in the ninth, with the Brewers playing spoiler and hanging on for a 6-5 win. All five of the Pirates runs came on homers, as Jose Tabata, McCutchen, and Matt Diaz all belted solo shots, while Pedro Alvarez hit a two run blast for his team leading 29th homer.
The recent power surge is both a positive and sign of concern for the Pirates. With eight homers in the past two games, the Bucs have shown a propensity for getting control over the game in one swing, however, it is not a consistently reliable source of offense. Especially against a tremendous pitching staff like that in San Francisco, the Pirates will need to claw for small ball runs in addition to the long ball.
An interesting storyline in the upcoming series is the trade the Pirates and Giants had around the trade deadline, that sent Miguel Tejada to Pittsburgh in exchange for Lyle Overbay.
"I think it makes everything fun," Hurdle said. "But this is playoff baseball. If you can't get up for these games, then you're not suited to be in this profession. We're ready to take on all comers, namely the San Francisco Giants."
Around the MLB
Both East Divisons (NL and AL) had their victor decided in a one-game playoff, with Philadelphia squaring off against the New York Mets, and the New York Yankees taking on Toronto. The Yankees pulled out a 2-1 win on the strength of a CC Sabathia gem, and the Mets blasted the Phillies 6-2 to potentially set up the first Subway Series finale since 2000.