Pirates’ playoff hopes dimming

Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates | Pirates’ second baseman Josh Harrison celebrates his walk-off home run vs. the Dodgers on Aug. 23.

Adam Lindner | Sports Editor

On Wednesday night at PNC Park, Dodgers’ pitcher Rich Hill threw eight perfect innings until third baseman Logan Forsythe committed an error during the top of the ninth inning.

Hill went on to pitch the 26th no-hitter in franchise history, finishing regulation with 10 strikeouts and no hits or walks given up. However, with the score tied at 0, the game headed to extra innings, where Pittsburgh hurler Juan Nicasio sat the Dodgers down in order.

In the home half of the 10th, leadoff hitter Josh Harrison homered off of an unlucky Hill to left field to give the Pirates an improbable 1-0 victory over the world’s best team.

While Harrison’s homer was certainly fun to witness, the Pirates’ recent run of losses has placed them on the outskirts of playoff contention, looking in. Wednesday evening’s triumph over Los Angeles pegs Pittsburgh at 61-66, eight games back of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs, who are 68-57 and 8-2 in their last 10 games. The Pirates, 3-7 in their last 10, may have dug themselves a hole far too deep to dig themselves out of.

If the Pirates are to make the playoffs, it’s likely that they’ll have to do it via winning their own division. Though the Pirates only sit eight games back in the National League Wild Card race, as well, Colorado, Arizona, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Miami all sit above them in a scramble for the league’s two Wild Card spots. It’s more likely that Pittsburgh’s NL Central foes falter, enabling the Pirates to usurp the Cubs for the division crown.

It takes a much shorter leap of faith to envision the Pirates missing out on the postseason altogether.

The Cubs are only a year removed from winning the World Series, and their roster still boasts several key contributors from last season’s championship team. The Cubs struggled early on, and will likely continue trending upward as the most important time of the year approaches.

Trailing Chicago by only 3.5 games, Milwaukee – one of baseball’s biggest surprises this season – is 7-3 in its past 10 games.

With the top two teams in the division on hot streaks as of late, it’s unlikely that St. Louis (4.5 GB, 4-6 in L10) or Pittsburgh will be able to assume the Central’s top spot.

The Pirates’ presumed demise can be attributed to a number of things. Inconsistent play from many spots on the field has haunted the Pirates this season, and untimely injuries have helped to halt any progress that Pittsburgh may have been making. Starling Marte’s 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs was significantly harmful, and the Pirates’ lack of production from third base this year can be attributed to Jung Ho Kang’s legal issues in South Korea.

A dearth of fresh arms in the bullpen has hurt the Pirates recently, but Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to bolster its pitching staff on Sept. 1 when rosters expand from 25 to 40 players.

Nevertheless, the Pirates will likely be watching the playoffs from home at this rate. I hope they prove me wrong.

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