In some ways, it is unfortunate that the Pirates are in the same division as the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards have the best record, the most wins, in baseball. Nobody is even close. The Pirates however have the second best record. In just about any other division of either league, they would be in first place.
But if the Cards push them to keep up, it is not so unfortunate, because they have a clear path to the postseason. If the season ended now, they would have the first Wild Card berth.
The Giants on the other hand don't have as clear a path. They are competing for their division championship, mostly with the Dodgers. If they don't get that, things get chancier. Because the race for the second Wild Card spot is unclear. Even a half game out (as they are at the moment), they might not make the postseason--they are even closer to the record of the Chicago Cubs for the second Wild Card.
In the past two or three weeks, the Giants have done what they needed to do. Playing mostly teams who are not in contention, they dominated. On Wednesday they broke a pitcher's duel open with a five run inning, and took their home series with the Brewers, after breaking their latest winning streak at six with Tuesday's loss to the Brewers. So they have won 12 of their last 14 games.
But after an off-day Thursday, things change. They're on the road, playing better teams than they have been playing, in less congenial circumstances (like a lot of hot weather.) The rest of the season is going to be challenging.
Both the Pirates and Giants (who play each other four more games, in Pittsburgh; the Pirates swept the last series in San Francisco) play a series with their main opponent in the last week of the season, and they both do so at home. The Cards-Pirates games probably won't be meaningful for the division title unless the Cards have a last month swoon, and the Pirates streak. Most Giants observers expect the Dodgers series to be meaningful, and possibly determine the division. Probably there's a greater chance of that, but of course it's not guaranteed (besides which, both teams have another series after it.)
But that's late September. There are a lot of games to come in the dog days--the period when the Giants faltered last year--and this year, it seems less likely that they will back into the Wild Card. Manager Bruce Bochy seems really conscious of this--he's resting players, keeping his starters to pitch counts, and sacrificing hitters on the bench for a large pitching corps. So this is when it gets interesting, in terms of season outcome (the Giants are an interesting and fun team to watch game by game anyway.) This is when it begins.
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