Playoffs? You want to talk to me about playoffs?

| July 31, 2012 | 1 Comment

Apologies to Jim Mora, but with all of the excitement about the Pirates in 2012, it is important to look back a year ago at the similarities and differences between the 2011 team and the 2012 Buccos.  While it definitely feels different this year, the Pirates were in first place on July 25 last year, whereas they were not in 1st place this year on that date or since.  They do lead the Wild Card standings right now, and they have for a while – though the Braves tied them for the 1st wild card spot last night.

On this date last year, the Pirates had fallen from tied for first on July 25 to 4.5 games back of the Brewers on July 31, three games into what would be a 10 game losing streak while the Brewers won 7 in a row and 13 out of 14 to essentially bury the Buccos and wrap up the excitement for 2011.  The Pirates were 7.5 games out of the 1 wild card spot available last year on this date, and would be 10.5 games back of the Brewers by August 10.

But this year, they have already survived a Reds 10 game winning streak and kept pace to remain within 3 games of Cincinnati.  And right now, they have a 3 game lead over the Dodgers /Giants and a 4 game lead over the Cardinals.  Further than that, the D-Backs are 6.5 games back.  However, despite that lead, Baseball Prospectus still has the Pirates’ odds for making the playoffs at only 44%.   This trails the Braves (84%), Dodgers / Giants (50%), and the Cardinals (59%).   So do the Pirates just get disrespected because of their history?  Or more likely because the pitching is showing signs that the wheels could fall off again like it did last year?

The Wandy Rodriguez deal helps with that.  But Erik Bedard leads the majors in losses, Kevin Correia has been removed from the rotation because of concerns about performance, and even James McDonald has been downright bad since the All Star break.  If A.J. Burnett continues to be an NL MVP candidate like he has been, Jeff Karstens stays consistently good and Wandy Rodriguez being what he’s always done, then we are set with three pretty good starting pitchers.  If McDonald gets back to himself from before July, that is 4.  This team has the pieces to hang around and get one of those 3 potential playoff spots they can earn.

So basically, they are in a ”new” division right now, that looks something like this.

‘Playoff’ Division:   (3 our of 6 teams make the playoffs)

Team     (GB)

Reds      ( – )
PIRATES       ( – )
Braves             ( – )
Dodgers / Giants (non-NL West Leader)       ( 3 )
Cardinals           ( 4 )
D’Backs             (6.5)

So, can the Pirates maintain  the three game lead that they currently have over the next and last 60 games?    Last year, after 102 games, the Buccos were 53-49.   And then they went 19-41 the rest of the way en route to 90 losses.    The good news is that with the head start that the team has in 2012, a similar and horrible collapse of 19-41 the rest of the way would still leave the Pirates 77-85.  It would only take a 23-37 finish to hit the always elusive .500 mark.

The whole .500 thing should be a side note at this point.  Not hitting .500 would be an epic collapse not worthy of any celebration, and who would have thought that to be the case at the beginning of the year?   It is more interesting right now to note that it would take only a 32-28 record from here on out to hit 90 wins.   And a 42-18 record, which is a .700 winning percentage (they are currently playing at a .569 clip) would get them to 100 wins.   So maybe that would be shooting for the stars a bit much.  But if the Pirates were to just continue their .569 clip from here on out, they would end the season at 92-70.  That would not have been good enough to win any of the three NL divisions last year, but it would have been good enough to win the single wild card that was available.  And if there were two wild cards available last year, then they would have hosted the Cardinals in the one game playoff with the winner then facing the Phillies in the NLDS.

So it isn’t asking a ton to think they can and should make the playoffs this year.   Last year, the wild card was won with 90 wins, and the Braves were the first team out with 89 wins.  So there is no room for a collapse of any sort, but it also won’t take anything special or above the norm to get in.  Arizona, for example, needs to finish 38-21 to get to 90 wins, which is a  .644 clip for a team currently playing .505 baseball.   So if three out of the five teams including the Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, Braves and Dodgers make the playoffs, and we get a 3 game head start, we’re in a good place.  But with a 4 game series in August at home against the Dodgers still to come, along with a 4 game home series against Arizona, 9 more games against the Reds (6 on the road), six against St. Louis (3 home, 3 away)and the final three games of the year at home against Atlanta, it could be a very exciting end to this season.

 

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Joe Rozsa is an e-commerce strategist and a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, is married and has two daughters. He schedules work travel around Pirates road trips, so he gets to take in many Pirates games from many different places. Joe launched this site as a way to turn his passion for the Pirates into something hopefully useful and entertaining to fellow PIrates fans. Go Buccos!

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