Bob Smizik: September baseball -- all a fan can ask

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The MLB season has just completed its fifth month, a period than has encompassed thousands of games. After all of that, the Pirates are within relatively easy distance of a championship, and if not that at least a playoff berth.

Does a fan of the team have the right to expect anything more? Real fans of the Pirates -- or any team -- should not.

Some fans, those who like to complain, might wail about what might have been accomplished with a more astute general manager or an owner more willing to spend.

But the truth is there are GMs far more acclaimed than Neal Huntington and owners far more extravagant that Bob Nutting whose teams already are looking to next season.

The Pirates have a chance and that's all any real fan can ask.

Those who deem nothing short of a World Series the only goal are ridiculous in their expectations. Do they place the same grandiose goals on their children?

The Pirates are two games out of first place in the National League Central Division, trailing the Brewers and Cardinals, who share the lead. They are fourth in the wild-card standings. Both paths to the playoffs are achievable.

No doubt, the result of their most recent game, a 3-2 loss to Cincinnati at PNC Park yesterday, was disappointing and has the second-guessers out in full force. The vast audience of fans wondering why manager Clint Hurdle rarely used a relief pitcher for more than one inning were joined by a group at least roughly the same size wondering why Jared Hughes was send back out to pitch after throwing a scoreless eighth.

But back out he went and he allowed what became a game-winning home run by Chris Heisey.

Still, the Pirates took two out of three from the Reds after taking two out of three from St. Louis. Tough to argue with that level of success.

The Pirates have a chance to gain important ground beginning this afternoon when they open a three-game series with the Cardinals. By late Wednesday, they could be in the thick of the pennant race or distinctly out of it. Or somewhere in between.

Should the Pirates meet with a lack of success against St. Louis, all is not close to being lost. After that series, the Pirates have three with the Cubs, four with the Phillies, three with the Cubs and three with the Red Sox. No opponent is easy, but those are easier than most and, yes, that is acknowledging the once-hapless Cubs are playing better.

What it all means is the Pirates are positioned to push the drama of this season until the final weeks.

It's all a fan -- a reasonable fan -- can ask.

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