This Coming Week is Decisive for the Pittsburgh Pirates Season

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 08: Andrew McCutchen
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 08: Andrew McCutchen /

The Pirates sit at the fringes of contention despite a rough start to the season. With games against the last-place Phillies and the division rival Cubs, this week leading into the All-Star Break is decisive for the Pirates season.

The Pirates season has been disappointing so far. They currently sit in 4th place in the NL Central with a 37-45 record. They’ve largely been without the services of Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte for well-documented reasons. Jameson Taillon missed a large chunk of the first half due to a Testicular Cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery. These absences, combined with Andrew McCutchen’s slow start, have led to their resultant poor record.

Despite this, the Pirates remain at the fringes of contention. The NL Central has been a dumpster fire this season. Also, there had been signs of things turning around for the Pirates. They just won series’ against the Cardinals and Rays last week. However, getting swept at the hands of last-place San Francisco this past weekend represented a “Giant” step back. This makes the upcoming week of games against the Phillies and Cubs leading up to the All-Star Break a key stretch.

The Opponents

First up this week, the Pirates have a 4 game series across the state against in Philadelphia. The Phillies are stuck with the worst record in all of Major League Baseball at 27-53. They’ve been 10-19 since the beginning of June, a mark that includes an 8 game losing streak. Needless to say, the Phillies are having a terrible season. Additionally, the Pirates took 2 of 3 from the Phillies when the two teams met in May. This gives the Pirates a great opportunity to make up ground in the NL Central.

More from Rum Bunter

After their 4 games with the Phillies, the Pirates travel to Chicago in their last series before the All-Star Break. The defending World Series champions are off to a slow start to the season. They currently sit in 2nd place in the NL Central at exactly .500 (41-41). Meanwhile, the Pirates and Cubs have already met 3 times this season with the Pirates winning 5 and losing 4. They swept the Cubs in 3 games in Chicago for their first meeting, while losing 2 of 3 in their two subsequent meetings in Pittsburgh. All divisional games are key, but given that the Cubs are the team to beat in the division (I’m not buying the Brewers) and the Pirates current position, this series is especially important.

Key Stretch

The Pirates are close to the edge of contention. With the trade deadline approaching, the front office will need to determine whether they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. However, the Pirates will likely need to at least go 6-1 over the next week. The most likely path to this would likely require a 4 game sweep of the Phillies. This is an unlikely, but not impossible proposition given how dreadful the Phillies have been in 2017.

Should they accomplish this and take 2 of 3 against the Cubs, they would be 43-46 and likely within striking distance of 1st place at the All-Star Break. However, if the Pirates don’t accomplish this, their season will likely be over barring an unforeseen hot streak. Without a nice run over the next week the Pirates won’t be in position to make the playoffs. Coming out of the All-Star Break they will likely be soft sellers at the trade deadline and punt to 2018.


So what’s the likelihood all this happening? The good news is that Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon, who have been the two best starting pitchers for the Pirates this season, will each make two starts over this period. Also, as was detailed above, the Phillies are terrible and the Cubs are less imposing than they were the last two seasons. The bad news is that unfortunately the Pirates will be on the road all week. Additionally, and more obviously, the outcome of a baseball game is relatively random.

Any given team rarely has more than about a 60% chance of winning any given game. Even if the Pirates have that 60% chance of winning each game against the Phillies, that equates to a less than 13% chance of the 4 game sweep. Overall, it’s far more likely that the Pirates go somewhere between 3-4 and 5-2 over the next week. Unfortunately, this probably wouldn’t be enough to position the Pirates where they need to be going into the All-Star Break.

Do or Die

Despite the odds, if the Pirates were to rip off a streak in the next week they’ll be in a decent position at the Break despite a rough first half. It would also somewhat take the sting out of getting swept by the Giants from this past weekend. As mentioned above, there’s reason for optimism given how badly the Phillies have played this season. Additionally, the Pirates have already surpassed their win total over the Cubs from last season. This is indicative of how much less daunting facing the Cubs has been for the Pirates and the rest of baseball this year.

However, it’s likely that the Pirates aren’t able to go 6-1 or 7-0 this week. Should this happen it’s unlikely that the Pirates will be in position to make a run at the division. If this is the case, they should likely do a soft sell at the deadline and reload for 2018. However, it’s not yet time for the Pirates’ faithful to throw in the towel on 2017. The week is do or die for their prospects though and the Pirates need to be much better than they were this past weekend.