After the All-Star Break halted the Pirates’ first big lumbering sweep of momentum of the season, they scored 3 runs in four games’ worth of innings this weekend, which was somehow enough to scrape out a win against the Nationals due to some stellar pitching from basically everyone yesterday (Melancon and Caminero excepted). Even Jon Niese pitched a few good innings to close it out and get a win, and AJ Schugel came up huge when Caminero forgot how to pitch again. I’m not sure who was put through the wringer more in this game, the bullpen or this kid.
With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Pirates are 47-45 and are either going to be 2.0 or 3.0 games out of the Wild Card game at the end of the day, pending the Mets and Marlins results. This is a great position to be in, considering the kind of June they had; this is the type of position you go for a playoff spot in.
Moreover, the Pirates are past the division-leading Nationals and into the meat of their schedule in which they play bad baseball teams. On the proverbial doorstep are series against the Brewers (3 games), Phillies (3), Mariners (2), Brewers (3), Braves (3), Reds (3), and Padres (3), all of whom are below .500 except the Mariners, who are dead even this year in the win and loss columns. You're looking at that list right now and salivating at the Pirates' chances to get a lot of wins in a short time because nearly all of those teams are downright bad. This is the stretch in which the Pirates need to show they’re legitimate contenders this year. They have 11 games until the trade deadline that are going to make or break their season. If they get wins against the poor teams like they have the talent to, they’ll be hovering right around the second Wild Card position and will be (nominally) buyers at the deadline.
I can’t see much action coming from the Pirates in any case, though; they have basically every position in the field filled (except maybe catcher, although Francisco Cervelli is coming back soon and it’s not like there are tons of catchers available). Pitching is another story, but with all the promising young arms in the minors, I can’t see the Pirates making a huge deal for anyone like Chris Archer or something (although his teammate, Matt Moore, is definitely a possibility!)
Regardless, the deadline is irrelevant if the Pirates can’t beat the bad teams standing in their way before August 1. The trade deadline isn’t a be-all-end-all to the season, but winning enough games to make the playoffs is. It starts tomorrow against the Brewers with Jameson Taillon on the mound. The offense better come ready to beat up on some bad pitchers, the Pirates’ starters better come ready to sit down some bad hitters and rest an already-overworked bullpen, and they need to get five wins in their next six games to put them back in a playoff spot. It’s not a must-win game, but the more wins the Pirates get now, the longer they put off a true must-win game.