PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 8: James McDonald #53 and Rod Barajas #26 of the Pittsburgh Pirates talk against the Chicago Cubs during the game on September 8, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Pirates' performance in the past months or so has been enormously discouraging. There's no doubt about that. If I had to guess right now, I'd give them, at best, a 10-percent chance of making the playoffs and about a 50-percent chance of finishing with 82 wins or better. Given where they were earlier this summer, that's awful. Injuries have hurt the Bucs, and their August-September swoon, which has been pretty much an annual event for the past several years, continues. There's no particular reason to be optimistic about this team.
However, there's optimism, and there's pessimism, and there's realism. Are the Pirates likely to go to the playoffs? No. Are they likely to post a winning season? I'm not sure. But are they out of it? You bet your behind they're not. That's not optimism. That's reality. That's math. As of this writing, the Pirates are two games out of a playoff spot. There are more than three weeks of baseball left. They have a chance. Nothing is inevitable.
Remember April 14, when the Pirates were 2-7, had already been one-hit and two-hit, and had scored just 14 runs total? They pulled it together and improved. Remember June 15, when they got shut out by Justin Masterson and the Indians, just after being swept by the Orioles? Well, Pedro Alvarez hit two homers in a 9-2 victory the next day, and the Bucs didn't lose another series until mid-July. Remember how the Pirates had a .618 OPS in April and a .617 OPS in May? Who would have predicted they would hit 39 homers in June, and then do it again in July?
The ups and downs of a season are unpredictable. So if the Pirates are two games, or two and a half games, out of a playoff spot with three and a half weeks to play, they clearly have a chance, and anyone who says otherwise is reacting emotionally. Again, that's not optimism. That's a fact. Will the Pirates go to the playoffs? Probably not. Do they deserve to go to the playoffs? Not really. But if the math says they're clearly in it, then they're in it. We don't know what's going to happen. An Alvarez / Andrew McCutchen outburst could be just around the corner. The Pirates' patchwork rotation doesn't give them a great shot, but with three and a half weeks left, stranger things have happened than a patchwork rotation pitching decently over a short stretch of games.
If the Cubs series leaves you feeling deflated, I can't blame you. I feel the same way. The Pirates aren't playing well, and no Bucs fan likes to see that. But it's quite a leap from there to the idea that they have no chance. They plainly have a chance.