Originally posted on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 9/3/12

The Pirates have a very easy stretch of games coming up. In the next six games — all at home — they play two of the worst teams in baseball. That’s a welcome sign, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Pirates have been slumping lately, losing to teams that contenders should be beating. They were just swept by Milwaukee in a three game series, one week after losing two of three to the Brewers. They were swept by the Padres last month in one series, and lost two of three in the other series. Those aren’t the results you’d expect from a contender.

The good news is that other teams in the Wild Card hunt are also slumping. The Cardinals are 4-6 in their last ten games, keeping the Pirates 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. The Dodgers are 5-5 in their last ten games, putting them one game ahead of the Pirates in the race. The race for that second Wild Card spot is still a three team race, and fortunately for the Pirates, the other two teams are slumping at the same time, which keeps the Pirates in the race.

After every big loss, you typically see two types of reactions from Pirates fans. The first reaction is that the season is over. The opposite reaction is to mock the crowd jumping the gun by saying the season is over.

I usually find myself in that second crowd, especially when the “season is over” calls come earlier in the season. And while the “season is over” claim might still be a little dramatic, the underlying message carries a bit more weight this late in the season. That message is that if the Pirates keep playing like this, their season will be over.

The season isn’t over by a long shot. Not with the Pirates one and a half games out of the second Wild Card spot. Not with 12 games total against the Cubs and Astros, plus four games against the Mets, and three more at home against Milwaukee. That’s 19 games where the Pirates should have a huge advantage down the stretch.

The Pirates didn’t capitalize on those advantages in August. But that doesn’t mean they won’t in September. Every team has slumps, even contending teams. And contending teams go through stretches where they lose to teams they should be able to beat. The Pirates aren’t alone in this department. But contending teams also minimize that damage. The Pirates have lost some games they should have won the last few weeks. They should have been 5-1 against San Diego, not 1-5. They should have taken at least three games from Milwaukee, instead of one.

They didn’t do either of those things. And yet they’re still in the race, with an easy schedule coming up. They didn’t take advantage of that easy schedule, but it hasn’t cost them the race yet. Going forward, it will cost them the race if they do the same act in September. The Cardinals and Dodgers aren’t going to slump forever. Maybe one of them will struggle, but not both. The Pirates can’t pin their hopes of contending on other teams performing poorly. They can’t back in to the post-season. They’ve got an easy schedule coming up. They had an easy schedule last month, and didn’t take advantage. Now they need to take advantage. Contending teams can have a bad stretch, even if that comes against bad teams. But a “bad stretch” doesn’t span two months. As contenders, the Pirates need to step up and beat the teams like the Cubs, Astros, and even the Brewers.

The season isn’t over yet. But now is the time for the Pirates to start playing like contenders. And a contender wouldn’t have any problems with the upcoming schedule that is in front of the Pirates.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Brewers 12-8.

**Pirates Notebook: Home Runs Hurt McDonald; Holt Gets First Major League Start.

**Prospect Watch: Curry and Cabrera Make First Starts in Indianapolis.

**Indians Slug Out 16 Hits As Irwin Takes His 3rd Win.

**Ramon Cabrera Promoted to Indianapolis.

**Minor League Schedule: 9/3/12.

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