I may be getting ahead of myself.
After all, if the season ended today, the Pittsburgh Pirates would indeed be NL Central champs for the first time ever (the Bucs were NL East champs in '92), but they would be put against the Washington Nationals in a 3 out of 5 who just swept the daylights out of Boston this series. And even if they could get by the Nats, they would more than likely be rewarded with LA, who just doesn't seem to be losing very much these days en route to a major league-leading 39 wins.
But hey, this is the Pirates, and who can't get excited by a team two decades removed from October making a comeback? And this is the metaphoricla playoffs we're talking about: anything can happen!
But for "the-Bucs-still-have-a-ton-to-prove" sake, I'll take this angle: if the Pirates were to be the Dark Horse of these playoffs and get by the one or two teams, how would they do it?
- Behind one of the biggest momentums in the game right now after winning 12 out of 15 which, as MLB.com's Tom Singer describes, is the club's "best 15-game stretch in nearly a decade."
- With one of the most electrifying young (if we can still call him "young") in Andrew McCutchen, who most recently drove in all three runs in the Pirate's 3-2 win over the Royals Sunday which clinched a Pittsburgh sweep.
- By closing out any near games with Joel Hanrahan in the ninth inning. If you haven't heard of him, he has 17 saves on the season, including eight along with two wins since May 21.
- With the quickly improving rotation that includes a revitalized A.J. Burnett (who just held a no-hitter into the sixth on Sunday) and James McDonald (who's 2.39 ERA ranks Top 5 in the NL).
For the rest of the season, the Pirates will have to do a lot to keep the dream of a playoff appearance in tact. Part of that includes finding a stable infield. A bigger part of that simply includes holding off Joey Votto and the Reds. But if they can stay half as hot as they have been these past two weeks and figure out how to supply consistent runs with people who's names aren't McCutchen, then the Pirates could indeed be the metaphorical Dark Horse in today's version of the metaphorical playoffs.