At 47-43, the Pirates are just 10 games short of last year's win total even though they've played just 56% of the season. To match last year's disaster, they'd have to go 10-62. To lose 100 games, they have to go 15-57.
With 72 games left, the Pirates need 35 wins to finish above .500 for the first time since 1992. This means they're not home yet: anything worse than a 35-37 record will put them at .500 or worse. There are good teams that will have records worse than this in the second half.
In the last five years, the NL Central Champions have won: 91, 91, 97, 85, and 83 games. That's an average of 89.4 wins; to reach 89 wins the Pirates will need to go 42-30 in the second half. To reach 91, the total it's taken to the win the division the last two seasons, they need to go 44-28. This seems like a rather long shot to me; the best way for the Pirates to stay in contention is probably for no one else in the division to pull away.
In the last five years, the NL wild cards have won: 91, 92, 90, 90, and 88 games.
Prediction: the NL Central is not quite as bad as people currently think. It will take at least 87 games to win the division.
Prediction: the Atlanta Braves are not quite as good as people currently think. It will take no more than 93 wins to win the wild card.
Therefore: it will take the Pirates between 88 wins (41-31) and 93 wins (46-26) to make the playoffs.
Begin theoretical analysis.
The Pirates have, by my count, 30 games left against the Cubs, Astros, Marlins, Dodgers, and Padres. The Marlins are currently the best team of ths group at 43-48. IF the Pirates win 20 games against these teams, they will need to go 21-21 against the rest of their schedule to reach 88 wins, which is mostly comprised of the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds with 13 games (3 apiece except for four vs. Atlanta) against the Phillies, Braves, Giants, and Diamondbacks.
Conclusion: It's still improbable that the Pirates make the playoffs in 2011, but it is neither impossible nor even implausible. Their easiest route to the playoffs is to continue beating the bad teams on their schedule, and make sure to split evenly against the rest of the NL Central. If they go 14-15 against the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers, but most of those losses come to one team (ie, the Brewers), they will probably lose the division.
Disclaimer: My math looks good to me, but it might be slightly off.
Speaking of numbers, let's play "guess the All-Star":
Pitcher A(19 games, 15 starts in 2011): 2.55 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 147 ERA+
Pitcher B(19 starts): 2.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 5.5 K/9, 127 ERA+
Pitcher C(19 starts): 4.01 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 4.6 K/9, 94 ERA+
Pitcher A is Karstens, B is Maholm, and C is Correia. All this is to say that in a blind taste test, 10 out of 10 managers would prefer Karstens or Maholm to Correia when selecting their All-Stars for the year. Not that Correia's been bad - I've been pleasantly surprised - but if he's an All-Star, then so are Karstens and Maholm. Do we need any further proof that a pitcher's W-L record is the most misleading stat in the universe?
So, Pat, you have some time with the All-Star break now upon us. A little time for a request, maybe? I was wondering about this paragraph from March 31, which I've kept in mind throughout the remarkable first half. (I correctly guessed it would be on page 27 of the archives. Everything's coming up Eephus!)
"At this time of the year, people always ask me for my win predictions for the season. My gut says that this is a 65-win team at worst and a 75-win team at best, but that's not important.Tthe truth is that the number of games the Pirates win isn't all that important this year when compared with how they win them. If Tabata and Walker and Alvarez have huge years, but the 1B/RF consortium collapses on itself and the pitching is terrible outside of McDonald and Morton and the team only wins 65 games, that's not an awful year. If Alvarez and Walker and Morton lay eggs, but Overbay and Diaz and Doumit/Snyder and Cedeno rake while Correia and Maholm put up articificially low ERAs and the Pirates win 75 games, that's a bad year."
So, now we're over halfway and the Pirates are four games over .500. I'm not going to look up the stats to confirm, but it seems like Tabata and Walker have taken steps back since April, and Alvarez hasn't given much of anything so far. Morton had his big improvement, and McCutchen is still showing he's one of the best in the league, but the Pirates' success this year has been fueled to some extent by guys we wouldn't consider important to the future of the team. Cedeno has had his moments, and of course we've gotten great pitching out of Correia, Maholm, and Karstens. And recently there's the unexpected solid contributions from Presley and d'Arnaud.
The results have been better than anyone expected, though, and basically being over 500 and one game back trumps those concerns for me. It's hard to keep in mind outlying stats, expected values, and possible future regression when they're taking the first two from the Red Sox. So my question for you is, how does the blogger-in-chief feel about the Pirates' success and where it's coming from? Is a three-run shot from McKenry as good as a three-run shot from McCutchen?
@Eephus My two favorite Pirates to watch right now are Tabata and Walker. I like watching them b/c we need to get a few average or above-average starters who we can pencil in for the next three or four years - and right now they seem to be our best candidates. If they turned out to be superstars it would be great - but right now the Pirates at least need to start filling up the positions with regulars. I'd say this season they are a push - they have not really improved nor have they signficantly regressed. (This is debatable I guess - but this is just my opinion.) In your answer to what Eephus wrote, I'm curious to hear what you think about their futures with the team. Have we found our future 2B and LF starters? If your answer is not yes - what else do we need to find out?
And - I like the post. It provides context for what to look for/hope for during the rest of the season.
@nickjuneau24 It could definitely be the case they're a push. My foggy memory had them both as having a hot start in April but slumping significantly since then. I could be making it worse than it was.
And I'm enjoying following Presley for similar reasons. We need players to come from the minors and look like regulars.
@Eephus Agreed to both points - I think you are right with both Tabata and Walker. I'm still hoping they can become average or above-average starters. Right now a lot of our starters are temporary pieces (Cedeno, Overbay, catchers), experiments (pretty much everybody who has played 3B or SS other than Cedeno, catchers), or platoon players (Jones, Diaz, Pierce and again - catchers). I would like to see some full time starters with futures with the team start to come around. I don't expect them all to be stars - but if they become average or above average - that would be fine.
Also, I like Presley too - he feels like this years version of Alvarez-Tabata-Walker. I wonder if he could become somebody we can watch to see if he could be a starter.
@Eephus This is a great question, which I've been kicking around in my head a bit lately. I'll work on this tonight.