If the playoffs started today (I wonder how many times we’ll see that over the next two months…), here’s how the National League’s five spots would be filled.
1. Cincinnati Reds (64-41)
2. Washington Nationals (62-42)
3. San Francisco Giants (56-49)
4. Pittsburgh Pirates (60-44)
5. Atlanta Braves (60-45)
The Cardinals sit four games behind the Braves. Hmm. That sounds a little familiar.
In looking at this, the Bucs and Braves would be playing that one-and-done game. That is not an enviable position by any means. In years past, winning the wild card meant only one thing: you never had home-field advantage. That was it. Nothing more.
In 2012, winning a wild card holds the potential of playing only one postseason game. One. That’s why the Pirates would sorely love to sweep the Reds this weekend and creep to within a half game of the Good Guys.
As the Bucs visit the Queen City, I have a few items here…
Andrew McCutchen is as legit an MVP candidate the NL has. I know a couple of months ago the narrative of the NL MVP, McCutchen and Joey Votto got a little on the heated side especially when a few in the national media screamed that McCutchen was a clear choice. With Votto having to sit due to that little procedure on his knee, I can say that I, too, would select the Pirate center fielder.
Who wouldn’t? Since the beginning of June, all McCutchen has done is post a slash of .409/.469/.709 with 14 HR, 41 RBI in 53 games. The Pirates are 35-18 in those games where McCutchen has played.
And you read that correctly. Those numbers are since June 1st, not July 1st.
There is another player on the Pirates roster that had a good July: catcher Michael McKenry, who has affectionately acquired the nickname, The Fort. (Google “Fort McHenry” for the reference.)
McKenry is making an incredible push to be the everyday catcher for Clint Hurdle. Considering Rod Barajas and his atrocious July numbers (.149/.286/.255, HR, 2 RBI) and McKenry’s offensive contribution (.325/.378/.725, 4 HR, 12 RBI in 14 games), it would be difficult for Hurdle to not play McKenry.
Of course, who knows if Hurdle concocts his starting lineups in a matter similar to, well, you get the picture.
The roster, as a whole, has seen a few changes on it since these teams last met at the beginning of June. While the Reds only made one trade during the non-waiver trade deadline period, the Pirates made many moves.
Newcomers include tonight’s starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. For his career, he’s 8-10 with an ERA of 4.42 and a 1.399 WHIP against the Reds. Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez were also acquired through trades. Can’t forget Starling Marte gaining a promotion either. Add Chad Qualls to the bullpen mix of a pretty good ‘pen. Actually, a very good ‘pen.
One thing we heard as the trade deadline approached was that of team chemistry. Some may feel with the number of changes on the Bucs roster, there could be consequences. I’m actually leaning the other way on this.
Young blood like Marte usually leads to an injection of enthusiasm even though it can be short-lived. Snider and Sanchez were somewhat in organizational doghouses. Neither appeared that they were going to get a legit shot, although if the Marlins had been able to trade Carlos Lee, that may have been different. Still the change should serve both well going to legitimate contenders.
As for Wandy Rodriguez, do we honestly need to elaborate on that? He’s no longer in Houston.
And you make ask yourself…Is this series important? Yes and no.
For those that believe it is, if the Reds can take 2 of the 3 games, they will even up the season series with Pittsburgh. That can go toward building even more on the confidence this team has constructed. A shift in the momentum could follow. The lead within the NL Central would increase by a game from 3.5 to 4.5 games. A bigger cushion is (almost) always a good thing.
As for it not being the big deal, hearken back to 2010 and an “important series at GABP” against the St. Louis Cardinals. Surely you remember that…
August 9-11, 2010. The series that was to beat all other series as the Cards came calling. The birth of the “WLB” comment and an on-field “scuffle” between the teams detracted from the fact that the Cards swept the Reds. When St. Louis arrived, they were a game back. As they left, they were a game up. Doom and gloom reigned.
After that series, the Reds went 13-4 for the rest of August while the Redbrids went into a tailspin with a 5-12 record over the rest of the same month. When the calendar switched to September 1st, Cincy had a 7 game lead in the NL Central. Prior to that series, Cincinnati was abuzz with a playoff atmosphere.
You could also view the series in September as being more pivotal (Sept. 10-12) since it is closer toward the end of the season. Or even the next to last series of the season in Pittsburgh.
All are important from this point until the end of the season.