The Pirates are currently in first place by two games over St. Louis in the National League Central Division. Considering the Cardinals have the second best record in baseball and have scored 46 runs in their past five games (or seven more than Pittsburgh did in June), it's safe to say the race for the division title could very-well come down to the last day of the regular season.
Thankfully, Major League Baseball has added four wild card entrants to the postseason mix over the course of the past 18 seasons (two in each league), and this has assured that teams who have the second or third best record in their league don't miss the postseason simply because of being in a loaded division.
As a fan of a team that hasn't given me much to cheer for during most of the past 20 years, I'm certainly thankful for a backup postseason plan in 2013, just in-case the Cardinals keep averaging nine runs a game the rest of the year.
Speaking of that backup plan. The Pirates currently hold an 11 game lead for the second National League wild-card spot--the biggest lead of any postseason consequence since the last day of the 1991 season, when Pittsburgh finished 14 games atop the National League East. I might be knocking on wood as I type this, but the idea of experiencing the playoffs for the first time since 1992 is becoming an almost "can't miss" possibility.
I have tickets to the last home game of the regular season on September 22nd, and I've had dreams of witnessing a division championship dancing in my head (in my dream, I catch Pedro Alvarez's Central-clinching home run and then sell it off for millions). That certainly would be epic and something I'd always remember, but with St. Louis so close in the standings, it's hard to believe that the Pirates could win the division with six games left in the regular season.
As for clinching a postseason spot of any kind, however, with only 51 games to go and an 11 game lead, that is very tangible, and could happen well before the final home game.
In 2012, the Braves clinched the NL's top wild-card spot on September 25th, or about a week before the end of the regular season, which ended on October 3rd. With Pittsburgh's current lead, and if the team can keep up the pace it's been on since the seventh game of the season (a .628 winning percentage), clinching one of the two wild-card spots could come as early as the mid-point of September.
That would be awesome, but what if that's all the Pirates get to celebrate in 2013? It's been 21 years since our favorite baseball team has been able to enjoy a postseason berth. To borrow from what Joey Porter said following Super Bowl XL, I want the bells and whistles; I want the parade--I guess a parade might be too much to ask for, but I do want the hats and t-shirts. Yes, that's right, you might be surprised to know that MLB handed out "Playoffs!" hats and t-shirts to 2012's four wild-card clinching teams, even though the playoffs would only be "one and done" for two of them.
Did you click on the "Playoffs!" link? Did you see the joy and the champagne in Oakland's clubhouse? I want that for the Pirates. I don't know if there was more champagne in the A's clubhouse a couple days later when they actually clinched the AL West, but the point is they got to celebrate at least one time.
My biggest fear is seeing the Pirates clinch their first postseason berth in 21 seasons on a day off, or God forbid, after a loss.
I can just see the headline now: "Despite the 17-0 loss to San Diego, Pirates clinch first playoff spot since '92."
Would there be a celebration? Maybe. But more than likely, Clint Hurdle would say something like, "We have bigger fish to fry," and then the guys would go out for sushi, or whatever.
There would be no celebratory scrum in the middle of PNC's diamond. There would be no hats and shirts covered in champagne.
What if those fish don't get fried, the Pirates don't actually clinch the division, and they go on to lose the "crap-shoot" NLDS play-in game?
I've been waiting for over two decades to see something. Even if it's only a bell and not a whistle, I want to ring that bell.