Tonight's the night. According to the Trib's John Grupp, the last time the Pirates played such a meaningful series this late in a season, we were more worried about if Cory and Topanga were finally going to get down to business on TGIF than what the Buccos were going to do on a trip to Cincinnati. The three-game tilt against the Reds that kicks off tonight is definitely the biggest series the Buccos have played this year.
The Buccos are just one of six teams with 60 wins right now, they're 16 game over .500 and they control the No. 1 wild card spot. Did we mention it's August? Cincy's got a 3.5-gmae lead on first place in the NL Central, and the only way this series could have been any bigger would have been if the Reds lost to the Padres yesterday (we're screwed by Ross ohlendorf again) to leave just 3 games separating the two teams that are about to play three games against each other.
The Bucs MUST win this series to gain some ground on the Reds. It'd be a miracle for them to sweep it seeing as how in the three series the Bucs and Reds have played so far, no one has swept...and because the Reds have been far and away the best team in baseball since the break. Cincy is 17-3 the second half thanks to a 10-game win streak - insane. It could also have something to do with the fact that their last 13 games (MIL, HOU, COL, SD) have come against teams with a combined record of 165-255. The Pirates' schedule has been just as easy but their pitching still hasn't gotten back to first-half form. But the Buccos do hold the edge in the season series so far. They've won the last two series and are 5-4 against the Reds this year.
Clint Hurdle knows how big this weekend is, that's why he moved AJ Burnett's start to Sunday to get him in on the action. The Pirates are sending their three best, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Burnett to see the tail end of Cincy's rotation of Latos, Leake and Bailey. But even if Wandy settles in with his new team and J-Mac is back to being J-Mac, the Buccos still have to get the bats going at Great American Ball Park. Latos K'd 11 in just 6 innings against the Bucs and Bailey through a complete-game 4-hitter his first start against the Pirates this year. Hell, Neil Walker is the only Bucco hitting over .270 against the Reds this year - he's 11 for 35 with 2 homers, 7 RBI and 6 runs.
The best news for the Pirates though is their lineup is 100% healthy while the Reds will be without their two best players in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips this weekend - the pitchers need to take advantage of that. The Pirates need to take advantage of knowing that they can close the game to as little as half a game this series with a season-high 11-game home stand waiting for them.
If the Pirates are serious, we're about to find out.