Pittsburgh Pirates: The Series That Holds Their Fate

MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 22: Max Moroff
MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 22: Max Moroff /

The Pirates are seven games out of the division, and eight behind the second Wild Card spot.  The Pirates play both the division leading Brewers and the second Wild Card leading Rockies, but the only series that matters is the one against the Brewers.

The Pittsburgh Pirates stand at 44-48, seven games out of first place, and in fourth place, closer to the basement dweller Cincinnati Reds than division leading Milwaukee Brewers.  Baseball Prospectus has the Pirates playoff odds at 6.4 percent, with a 3.8 percent chance at the division.  Fangraphs has the Pirates odds at 8.1 percent with a 3.0 percent chance at the division.  They have work to do, and can make up the ground this week, especially with Starling Marte returning.

Neal Huntington wasn’t afraid of stating the obvious.  The Pirates general manager said, via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune,

"“We don’t want to undersell (or) oversell what this four-game series with the Brewers means.  Obviously, an 0-4 (outcome) changes the dynamic pretty significantly. We go 4-0, it changes the dynamic in a much more positive direction.”"

A sweep of the first place Brewers sets them up to be only three games back, and gets them to .500.  A 3-1 series in favor of the Pirates makes it a five game difference, and if the Pirates and Neal Huntington want to buy, they have to at least do that.  Anything else essentially sinks them from the divisional race, and at that point the series against the Rockies is essentially irrelevant.

The Pirates have a good shot against the Brewers, especially with the return of Starling Marte for Tuesday’s game.  Below is the probable pitching matchups and win probabilities from fangraphs:

Win ProbPirates StarterBrewers Starter
0.563Chad KuhlBrent Suter
0.583Ivan NovaPaolo Espino
0.599Gerrit ColeZach Davies
0.590Jameson TaillonJimmy Nelson

The game with the lowest odds for the Pirates is tonight’s game, though Chad Kuhl has posted a 97.2 DRA- and Suter a 133.0 DRA-.  The next two games for the Pirates are both winnable matchups, but the series finale should be a good one.  Jameson Taillon has pitched to a 3.06 ERA (Baseball Prospectus has a 3.48 rest of season projection) and Jimmy Nelson has a 3.27 ERA on the year (projected 4.09 rest of season).  The first game and the final game will be the keys for the Pirates, and the difference between 2-2, 3-1, or 4-0.

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The odds of a four game sweep, using Fangraphs’ win probabilities is 11.6 percent (multiply the win probabilities by each other).  The club’s expected wins is 2.335, (win probability game 1*1+win probability game 2*1…. etc).  It’s a big series for the Pirates, and the only way to make the Rockies series matter is if the Pirates win this series against the Brewers, if not, the Pirates will be forced to sell.


Junior Guerra will pitch Tuesday, which is a better matchup for the Brewers, but one in which the Pirates will likely still be the favorites with Ivan Nova going for Pittsburgh.