The Braves were shut out last night, and they are a half game behind the Cards with a game to play today. Win the game and they are tied with the breaker. Lose the game, and they drop back in the home field advantage race to second. I could go into the absolute crazy that was the Carlos Gomez thing with BMac, but if you watch ESPN you've already been beaten to death with that coverage. Honestly, Gomez is a fool, I'm glad nobody got hurt, and we can all move on with our lives. The Braves have better things to do than the Brewers in October. Suck on that.
But I'm almost positive they don't care. They absolutely should, but I don't think they do. You know how I know that? Because Jason Heyward got the scheduled day off last night. Jason Heyward, one of the few guys we know for a fact makes the offense go, and has been sidelined with an injury for weeks, got a day off. That's absurd. If you cared about home field, the lineup would have Jason, Gattis/Schafer, Justin, Freddie, Simmons, Elliot, CJ, and BMac in there every single night. If it doesn't, then the Braves don't care, because that's the likely lineup you'll see in the playoffs.
Today in our playoff focus, I look at the Pirates, the team that nobody expected. The Pirates have their first winning season since the famous 1992 season where the Braves ruined their dreams. How fitting would it be to face off against the Pirates again in the NLCS? If things shape up the way they are now, that's actually a likely possibility. The Pirates share a lot in common with the Braves this year. They've survived on great pitching, and their RISP hitting has been totally abysmal. In fact, the Pirates are 14th in the NL in RISP average as a team, meaning they are only slightly better than the Cubs, and actually worse than the Marlins. So how in the world are they winning games? It ain't by scoring a ton of runs, because they are actually 9th in runs scored this year in the NL, which is dead last amongst playoff teams. Nope, they've done it with the 2nd best ERA in the league, behind only Atlanta.
The Pirates have 4 starters they can select with a sub-3.50 ERA and 2 that average a strikeout every inning this season. They are second in the NL in BAA with opponents hitting a paltry .239 this season. However, since the All-Star break the Pirates have fallen away from the pack and that BAA has risen to .256, while the ERA has increased to 3.59. The difference is that they had to face a schedule loaded with tougher divisional opponents, and that has worn down some of those ridiculous staff numbers from the beginning of the season. Still, they command second place in the NL Central for a reason ahead of the Reds, they have dominated at home, and won more than .500 on the road. Though of all the teams going into the playoffs, the Pirates have the lowest run differential.
Nobody is giving the Pirates much of a chance. They are 4-6 in their last ten, three normally solid starters on their pitching staff suddenly have 5.00+ ERA's in September, and their OPS in the final month is in the bottom 5 in the league. Then again, the same can be said for Atlanta's OPS, so it would be foolish not to take either team seriously. With the kind of pitching the Pirates can command at a moment's notice, and the players like McCutchen, Alvarez, and Martin who can turn the game around with the long ball, this Pirates team is going to be the dark horse contender if they make it out of the Wild Card game.
And if they do, hopefully the Braves are waiting with home field advantage.