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Before the season started, did you think the Pittsburgh Pirates could possibly make the playoffs this season? Not me.

This is one of the things I love most about the game of baseball. The league is so balanced that any team can emerge onto the scene at any time and any team can fall off at a moment’s notice.

The Pirates have had almost the same team for several years now, but have suffered through bad luck with their prospects. Behind the breakout season by Pedro Alvarez and the return of the dominant A.J. Burnett, the Bucs have hope to finally make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

What are their chances? Well, currently the Pirates sit in third place in the National League Central:

1. Cincinnati Reds- 82-53
2. St. Louis Cardinals 72-62
*3. Pittsburgh Pirates 70-63
4. Milwaukee Brewers 65-68
5. Chicago Cubs 51-82
6. Houston Astros 41-93

Based on those current division standings, I see the Pirates chances being very slim to win the division, with the Cincinnati Reds holding a commanding division lead being 11 games above the Pirates and nine games ahead of the second place St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds are hot right now and are arguably one of the best teams in the league, if not all of baseball. The Pirates could pass St. Louis and fight for a wild card though. Currently the Pirates are fourth in the wild card race. Remember though, only two wild card teams make it to the playoffs.

1. Atlanta Braves 75-59
2. St. Louis Cardinals 72-62
3. Los Angeles Dodgers 72-63
*4. Pittsburgh Pirates 70-63

With the Los Angeles Dodgers pulling the trigger on the big blockbuster trade that included Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they now have the best roster on paper, so it is hard for me to count them out of a wild card.

Related: Los Angeles Dodgers: The Logic of Taking On Big Stars and Huge Salaries

If the Dodgers do win their division, then the San Francisco Giants will remain as wild card contenders. The Atlanta Braves seem to always be in this spot late into the season, but yet the conception is that they always choke at the end. As I mentioned earlier, I do see the Pirates passing the Cardinals into the third spot. But in my opinion, it is all up to if Atlanta can keep up their game.

What the Pirates haven’t been bringing to the table in the second half as frequently as the first are quality starts. But from the muck of a week in which the plug finally had to be pulled on the struggling Erik Bedard, rose two extremely encouraging outings from James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez.

McDonald was the surprising stud of the first half. Buoyed by a superb slider he added to his repertoire, he went 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in his first 17 starts. His ERA since is 6.24.

Taking a look at the Pirates schedule, the Bucs’ remaining 32 games include 23 against also-ran teams, with 14 of the 17 on the road — starting with this weekend’s series in Milwaukee. Nineteen of those 32 games are against the National League Central’s bottom three teams, which do include the still-dangerous Brewers, along with the 80-loss Chicago Cubs and 90-loss Houston Astros.

Related: 2012 MLB Playoffs: Can the Cardinals Repeat As World Series Champions?

The Pirates do not have to apologize for this favorable schedule. They have handled the big boys, too, having already taken the season series from St. Louis and having split with the division leading Reds.

“We have to beat the teams we’re supposed to beat,” general manager Neal Huntington said.

The Bucs have earned this shot to aspire far higher than the mere end of that notorious streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons.

If the Bucs finish this season with 82-plus wins, that, in and of itself, will be one of the great baseball stories to come out of 2012. Now, if they don’t make it to the playoffs this season, my vision sees that the Pirates will make it next season.

I guess you can say I have hopped onto the bandwagon, but this team plays great team ball. For not having a lot of star players they sure are competitive. I am excited to see how things pan out for Pittsburgh for the rest of this season and also future seasons to come.

This article was originally published at MLB Reports.  

MLB Reports is a partner of FootBasket. You can see more about them at their website. Follow them on Twitter @MLBReports.


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