For weeks, it’s been seemingly inevitable that the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates would play Oct. 7 in the National League wild card game.
But what if the Pirates catch the St. Louis Cardinals and knock the three-time defending NL Central champions down to the glorified one-game playoff?
“The one thing I am amused about is everybody takes for granted that (we’re going to play) a one-game playoff for the wild card,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “That still tickles me.”
Pittsburgh’s 4-0 loss to the Cubs Sunday means they’ll welcome the Cardinals to PNC Park Monday night with a three-game deficit in the division. In all likelihood, the Pirates will have to sweep the three-game series to have any chance of winning their first division crown since Barry Bonds left town in 1992.
The Pirates finish the season with three games at home against the Cincinnati Reds, while St. Louis travels south for three against the bottom-feeding Atlanta Braves. It’d take a major push for the 95-win Pirates, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility they catch St. Louis over the season’s final week.
“We’re not satisfied with the wild card,” right-hander A.J. Burnett said. “We want to see what we can do, we want to go for the division. It’s not over yet.”
The Cardinals stumbled to a 13-12 record in September so far. Closer Trevor Rosenthal uncharacteristically imploded Sunday, combining with right-hander Seth Maness to allow seven runs in the ninth inning of an 8-4 loss to the lowly Milwaukee Brewers. Right-hander Carlos Martinez was shut down for the season with a shoulder strain last week, while catcher Yadier Molina hasn’t played since Sept. 20 after spraining his thumb against the Cubs.
Only three teams (Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta) have scored fewer runs this month than St. Louis. The Cubs went 8-11 against the Cardinals in the regular season but won four of six games in September against them.
A handful of Pirates players peeled their attention away from Sunday’s NFL games in Wrigley Field’s cramped visitor’s clubhouse to watch the Cardinals’ ninth-inning collapse against Milwaukee. A few hours later, Pittsburgh ran into the Jake Arrieta buzzsaw, which served as a reminder of how important it is to win the division and avoid that treacherous win-or-go-home wild card game.
“I don’t think anybody would like to play in that,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. “That has to be the last option as a player, as a team, because you can run into a guy like Arrieta in the one game.”