Despite big win, Pirates unlikely to topple Cardinals in NL Central

Behind a J.A. Happ gem and a big Starling Marte offensive performance, the Pirates topped the Cardinals in St. Louis Friday night, 9-3. This cuts the Cardinals' lead in the NL Central to 5 1/2 games and the two clubs still have five head-to-head games left this season.

So there's a chance the Pirates can run down the Cardinals and win the NL Central, avoiding a third-consecutive trip to the wild card game, right?

Well, maybe in the Dumb and Dumber "so you're telling me there's a chance" way. Otherwise, I'm not seeing it.

First off, the Pirates probably would need to sweep the next five games against the Cardinals in order to do so. Even going 4-1 would only get them within 2 1/2 games.

Let's say they do that, though. Look at the rest of the Pirates' schedule.

They have a three-game series in L.A. against the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are both lined up to pitch in that series. Yikes.

The Pirates also have seven games left against the Cubs, who are 7-5 so far against Pittsburgh this season.

Even some of the easy games aren't so easy. After all, the Pirates were just swept by the Brewers and have four more against them. They have six games left against the Reds, who are 9-4 against the Pirates this year.

Don't get me wrong here. The Pirates are a great team and they definitely have a chance for a deep postseason run. They have a good rotation, led by down-ballot Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole. They have an excellent bullpen, led by one of baseball's best closers in Mark Melancon. They have an occasionally potent offense, led by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen along with the exciting Starling Marte and rookie upstart Jung Ho Kang.

The Pirates would win the NL East or NL West, the former with ease. They became the third team in the majors to hit 80 victories with Friday's win. This ballclub deserves plenty of praise and is easily an elite team this season.

It's just that the Pirates are stuck in the wrong division, trying to chase down an unstoppable force.

In fact, I'm not sure the Cardinals are getting enough credit for the season they're having, especially in light of the Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday injuries. Their worst month this season was a 15-12 July. They have 28 games remaining, so let's say for the sake of argument that they go 15-13 the rest of the way. That would be their worst month and still get them to 102-60.

Yes, in order to not win 100 games, the Cardinals would have to have a losing record (13-15) the rest of the way. That's insanity, but let's stick with the 102-60 hypothetical.

If the Cardinals only go 15-13 from here on out, the Pirates would need to go 22-7 in order to tie them.

I'll again note the above facts about the Pirates' remaining schedule. Meantime, the Cardinals have seven games against the Reds (Cardinals are 8-4 against them this year), seven against the Brewers (Cardinals are 8-4 against them this year) and three against the Braves (who have lost 17 of their last 18). Even the tougher games shouldn't be that tough. They have six left against the Cubs, but are 9-4 against them this year.

I just can't see the Cardinals winning fewer than 105 games at this point, judging both how they've played all season and the remaining schedule.

Thus, the Pirates are going to be relegated to the wild-card game for the third straight season. This time around, it looks like they'll get to deal with Jake Arrieta, who is baseball's hottest pitcher that doesn't play on the West Coast. This team could win more than 95 games and still face a one-and-done against a 90-plus win team.

That has to be a frustrating feeling, so the Pirates are surely holding out hope for a division title. And it'll take a baseball miracle to make that happen.

J.A. Happ threw a great game Friday night for the Pirates.
J.A. Happ threw a great game Friday night for the Pirates. (USATSI)
CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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