Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Second Half Schedule: Helping or Hurting the Pirates Chances?

As I considered buying season tickets this year, the schedule played a major role in my decision making process for 2 reasons.

1) The Pirates worst performance this year came in April and into May. During that time they faced a lot of good teams and a lot of good pitchers. Even so, they stayed right within striking distance of .500. Last year, on the other hand, they stayed right around .500 while facing a weaker schedule.

2) Now going into the final 2 and a half months they have dozens of games against the 4 worst teams in the National League. They play an inordinate number of games against the Astros and Cubs from the Central, and Colorado and San Diego out west. Also the reverse of last year.

Let's take a look at the schedule starting with their first homestand after the all-star break.  How does it shape up for the Bucs?

Can J-Mac's dominance continue?
First here are some things to keep in mind. The Pirates are a losing team on the road this year. But they have the best home record in baseball. It's ok if both of those things continue roughly the same: mediocre or worse on the road, but stellar at home, fine. Similarly, the Pirates have played just adequately against good teams and pounded the bad teams. That's also fine, as long as it continues. So the point is, the Pirates need to continue to do both, to win 60-70% of their games at home, and win 60-70% of their games against bad teams. The rest of the season breaks down into the following 4 parts.

Part 1 
July 20th - Aug 2nd (13 games)

Between now and August 2nd they play 13 games: 6 at home against the Marlins and Cubs and 7 on the road against the Astros and Cubs.  The Astros and Cubs are terrible and Miami is under .500.  That's 13 straight games against losing teams.  This will be a telling stretch.  Can the Pirates raise themselves a few more games over .500?  They're not playing great right now, so I'll say...

Prediction: 7-6 

Part 2
Aug 3rd - 22nd (20 games)

Reds' Johnny Cueto!
The first weekend in August they play at Cincinnati, their first quality opponent of the second half. Just don't get swept.  1 out of 3 would be fine, 2 would be a bonus. Then they have an 11-game homestand and a short 5-game road trip.  The homestand is 3 series against the Western Division; then they travel to St. Louis and San Diego, their final trip out west this year.

The West has two teams hovering around .500 and two teams that are total clunkers.  This will be another telling stretch, with 11 home games, none against a great team.  Here's the Pirates' advantage.  Just like they need to win a bunch against the lousy Cubs and Astros in July, they need to come away with a bunch of victories during this long stretch at home in August.

So how does this leg add up?  Let's say they only win 1 in Cinci and split the road trip 3-3, that's 4 wins.  What about the 11-game homestand?  Hmm.  You'd like to see 7 or 8 out of those 11, but I'll make the conservative prediction of 6.  So that's 10 total from this part.

Prediction: 10-10

Part 3
Aug 24th - Sept 23rd (27 games)

Meaningful baseball in September?!?
This is a massive stretch.  27 straight games against NL Central opponents.  Here's where the second and third place teams can make up ground, or the leader can put a little distance between them.  Here's where I want my season ticket package to pay off.  Meaningful games in September!  Division leaders going head to head.  McCutchen against Votto.  McDonald vs. Cueto.  This is what I dished out the big bucks for.  Will we have meaningful pennant race baseball games?  Or will the Pirates fade from contention and send me scrambling to StubHub to try and sell off the rest of my tickets?

Remember, they don't need to be in first place, just in contention.  Just relevant.  Within striking distance of the division lead, or right there for a Wild Card spot.  That ballpark will be insane.  So, what's it going to be?

Let's say they play up and down a little and hover right around that .500 point.  I'll give them 14 wins out of the 27 games.  That will leave them just 1 win short of guaranteeing a winning record, with 10 games remaining.  It would probably put them close to, but not in, a playoff spot.

Prediction: 14-13

Part 4 
Sept 24th - Oct 3rd (10 games)

So here's what it comes down to. 10 games left. The 19-year losing streak almost all but erased. A chance at the playoffs. They finish with 6 games at home. That's a good thing. They'll get a crack at a couple of potential Wild Card opponents. They have 3 games against potential division leader Cincinnati, also a good thing. But then the final series. The last 3 games of 2012. Three games that could decide the fate of a magical season. And who do they play? The team that knocked them out of the playoffs 20 years ago and started the streak. The low down dirty Atlanta Braves.
Prediction: 5-5

This would give them 86 or 87 wins for the season.  It would end the losing.  It might even get you into the playoffs.  It would have me buying another season ticket package in 2013, that's for sure.

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