For the second straight season, we’ll enter “Buctober” in just a short week. The Pittsburgh Pirates clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday with a win over the Atlanta Braves. The short-term question now becomes whether or not the Pirates take a step back and lose even the slightest big of their edge Wednesday night when the team resumes play in Atlanta. Pittsburgh will get into the playoffs, but there is still plenty to play for. After a loss last night, the Cardinals slide back to just a 1.5-game lead in the Central – a crown the Bucs would love to have in order to avoid the Wildcard play-in game. Speaking of the Wildcard, Pittsburgh holds just a one-game advantage over San Francisco in the top spot, which means that PNC Park would host its second-straight play-in game. If Pittsburgh wants to hold onto home field or even make a push at the Central, it must keep winning this week. The Pirates are a small underdog on the road against Julio Teheran and the Braves.
The Braves have been dreadful in the second half. They’ve completely fallen off the pace they were able to keep with Washington for a good chunk of the year and and free-fallen below .500. Even worse, they’re now tied with the New York Mets for second place in the NL East. Atlanta might be out of it, but they still do have something to play for in these last five game. The Braves must win out to secure a .500 record and will have to play well for the rest of the week to beat out the Mets in the division.
That’s why I like this team behind their ace Julio Teheran on Wednesday. Teheran has quietly become one of the elite starting pitchers in the league this season – posting a 2.88 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. He’s also proven to be a horse all season, starting 32 games, and dependable in the strikeout to walk department (180 K’s to just 48 BB’s). The Braves have the clear starting pitcher advantage with Teheran over Pirates starter Jeff Locke, even with how well the Pittsburgh lefty has thrown this season. The Braves also are at home and have some soul-searching to do in these last five games.
It’s always tough to handicap a ball club’s mindset after 157 baseball games when there’s nothing to play for, but we’ll learn a lot about the Braves tonight. It’s also tough to image Pittsburgh doesn’t lose just a small, small edge on what’s been a highly intense September for them. Braves play mini spoiler on Wednesday.
Free Pick: Atlanta (-115)
YTD: 38-26-2 +6.81