With a winning record at the All-Star break for the first time since 1992, and moreover a mostly-legitimate contention for the pennant, the Bucs have surprised everyone, and have made ZiPS, sportswriters, and virtually all fans' predictions look foolish. But you know all that.
Now, the Pirates enter a very tough stretch directly after the break that will likely decide the success of this team. From the break until July 31, the Pirates play three against division rivals Houston, Cincinnati and St. Louis, followed by a roadtrip from hell that will include a four-game set against Atlanta and a weekend series in Philly.
If the Pirates can sweep the Astros, continue to dominate Cincy, and then take two of three from St. Louis, they can easily afford to go down to both Atlanta and Philadelphia. If the Pirates win three against the 'Stros, and two each against Cincy and St. Louis, they would be 7-2 with an overall record of 54-45, easily allowing them to have a a poor 3-4 (even 2-5) roadtrip and stay in the race (at 57-49 or 56-50). This is, of course, a fairly optimistic prediction. If we decide to be more pessimistic and say the Pirates take two of three from Houston and Cincy, one from St. Louis, one from Atlanta and one from Philly, they still end up at 54-52 overall, allowing them to play meaningful games in August and September against a schedule that is fairly balanced, and mostly divisional. This prediction, I'd say, is probably the lower end of the realistic range of forecasts, just as the above is probably the upper end, barring something catastrophic (nojinxnojinxnojinx). All things considered, an 8-8 split is about the most realistic, and very very acceptable.
My prediction? 3 from Houston, 1 from Cincy, 2 from St. Louis (which has been playing very poorly recently), 2 from Atlanta and 1 from Philly, putting us at 9-7 through that stretch and 56-50 overall. In that scenario, even if we only get one from the Braves or get swept by Philly, we are in the thick of this.
So, what do you all forsee for the Pirates by July 31?