It probably would be inaccurate to refer to the three games this week against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park as the Pirates' last stand. No matter the results after the final pitch of the series Wednesday night, the club will have 32 games left. As catcher Rod Barajas noted, "We could sweep 'em in these three games and then play poorly after that. What good would that do us?"
Still, it's easy to think we'll know so much more about the possibility of meaningful October baseball around here -- remote, as it's beginning to look -- after the three games. The Cardinals come in fresh from taking two of three in Cincinnati against the first-place Reds and are 5-1 since their 19-inning loss to the Pirates Aug. 19. That just goes to show how silly the notions were that momentum means anything in baseball beyond the next game's starting pitcher or that the Pirates somehow would benefit significantly long term from the marathon win.
The Pirates got another in a long line of bad starts Sunday -- this one from Erik Bedard -- and were blasted by the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-0, at PNC Park. They are 1-5 since the 19-inning win, 5-12 in the past 17 games and 9-15 in August. They have gone 6-11 at PNC Park since Aug. 7 after being the best home team in baseball for much of the season. They also are 1-5-1 in their past seven series.
"Obviously, we're not where we want to be," Barajas said. "Every series is important. The more series we lose, the bigger hole we dig for ourselves. We can't keep saying we have time to turn it around or that there still are a couple of months left. We've got to make our move now. It's definitely time to make our move. But ... "
Get ready for the harsh truth.
"If we keep playing the way we're playing, that time will disappear quickly," Barajas said.
The Pirates trail the Cardinals by two games for the final wild-card slot. Their chance for success in the series will come down to starting pitching. It always comes down to starting pitching, which must make you shiver after watching the lousy stuff the Pirates have been taking to the mound for nearly a month. You can blame the sudden, brutal, unexpected collapse of Andrew McCutchen as much as you like for the team's struggles. I'm blaming the starters. They've been awful.
In August, the Pirates starters are 8-11 with a 4.95 ERA. Bedard added to those hideous numbers by giving up six runs to the Brewers in 42/3 innings. He didn't allow a hit through 32/3 innings but, after his next six pitches, trailed, 3-0, because of singles by Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy and a home run by Carlos Gomez.
"Two outs, nobody on and the inning gets away from us," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle lamented.
So did the game.
The good news is Bedard won't pitch against the Cardinals. The bad news is Jeff Karstens won't, either. The three Pirates starters who will get the ball in the series probably didn't cause the Cardinals hitters to lose any sleep Sunday night.
A.J. Burnett goes tonight. For much of the season, he was a strong Cy Young Award candidate. But in his past three starts, he's 1-2 with a 7.23 ERA. Now we have a little better idea why the New York Yankees couldn't wait to dump him and his enormous contract in the spring.
James McDonald gets the call Tuesday night. In eight starts since the All-Star break, he's 2-3 with a 7.29 ERA. In his most recent start, he walked the first three San Diego Padres hitters and gave up three first-inning runs in a 4-2 loss.
Wandy Rodriguez will be the starter Wednesday night. He's 0-4 with a 5.17 ERA in five starts since joining the Pirates shortly before the trade deadline. His only win with the club came in that 19-inning game when he pitched two innings of relief.
Huge edge, Cardinals.
They will start three 13-game winners -- Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn.
I'm thinking everyone connected with their club slept well Sunday night.
As always, Hurdle promised the Pirates will show up.
What else was he going to say?
"We've got to play better to win. They know that. No one knows that better than our players. We've got to play better baseball."
Asking for a sweep of the Cardinals would be greedy. But the Pirates need to take two out of three. That would leave them in a decent spot with 23 of their 32 remaining games against sub-.500 teams, including 13 against the Houston Astros or the Chicago Cubs.
But anything less than two out of three?
And, heaven forbid, a sweep by the Cardinals?
Barajas probably had it right.
The Pirates' chances of making this a truly memorable season will disappear quickly.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.