As noted by my colleague Danny Knobler in his second-half storylines article, one of baseball's biggest stories set for post-break is the Pittsburgh Pirates and whether or not they can a), post their first winning season since the Barry Bonds era and/or b), make the playoffs for the first time since the Barry Bonds era.
The former shouldn't be too difficult, as they only need to go 26-43 (.377 winning percentage, which prorates out to 61-101 over 162 games) the rest of the way. To make the playoffs, the Pirates probably need to get around 90 wins -- so going 34-35 would make that happen.
The Pirates went 31-46 (.403) after the break last season, so a similar slump would get them over .500 but probably not in the playoffs.
And we're gonna know the mettle of these Pirates rather quickly.
The Pirates open the second half Friday night against the Reds, the beginning of a three-game series in Cincinnati. They then head to Washington to face a talented -- possibly a sleeping giant -- Nationals team for a four-game series. Finally, the Pirates' 10-game road trip concludes with three games in Miami. The Marlins aren't good, obviously, but they've gone 22-17 since May 30. So that series shouldn't be taken lightly.
The Pirates aren't a bad road team by any stretch. They are 24-19 on the road this year. Still, that's a tough road trip to open the second half for even the best of teams. And then the Pirates come home for a five-game series (with a doubleheader including a rain makeup date) against the best team in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals.
That gets the Pirates through Aug. 1. Fifteen games that will go a long way in telling us what to expect the rest of the season from the first half's feel-good team.
Let's say the Pirates emerge 10-5 from those games. They'll be 66-42 on the season and in prime position to make good on their early-season promise. Having 24 wins north of the .500 so late in the season almost assuredly would put any concerns about a colossal collapse to bed. Even the lazy "they're still the Pirates" naysayers would have to admit that much.
What if they stumble and go something like 3-12, however? That would mean the Pirates would be 59-49 and getting close to the danger zone that is .500 with plenty of time to choke the plus-10 differential away. They were 10 games over .500 as late as Aug. 29 last season and still wound up four games under .500 at season's end, after all.
The Pirates have an awful lot of Brewers, Cubs and Padres on the schedule in their final six weeks. What they do in the next two weeks will go a long way in deciding whether or not those games are relevant. Mark me down for saying they will be. I'll leave the "they're still the Pirates" junk for someone else.