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It is Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. The Pirates have dropped two consecutive games to the San Diego Padres and are threatening to drop a third. It is the bottom of the third and Pittsburgh has two hits thus far, one a double by pitcher Eric Bedard who has just scored on a single by second baseman Neil Walker. The Bucs end up scoring 7 earned runs and 2 unearned runs in the bottom of the fourth inning overcoming a 5-1 deficit and taking a 10-5 lead highlighted by the first career grand slam by shortstop Clint Barmes.

Barmes needed to do something to atone for the two errors that he had made earlier. However, the Pirates needed someone, anyone to stop the stone from being rolled in front of the “tomb” of their 2012 season because in order to reach the postseason, the Bucs cannot afford to just play .500 baseball. The team has to average a minimum one and one-half wins for every loss, just to be assured that the MLB Central and NL wildcard race remain competitive. Sunday’s win over the Padres meant far more than just one game in a series. This victory sort of jolted the Pirates back into the land of the baseball living because they have been a bit lethargic, especially from the pitching end.

The Pirates ended up winning the game 11-5 but that is not the core issue here. On Monday Pittsburgh remained four and one-half games behind the Cincy Reds in the race for the NL Central crown. With a race so close there appear to be a few tired arms and minds in the Pirates dugout. Pitcher James McDonald who was and still remains one of the Pirates “aces” seems to have some serious issues going on right now. He was part of the center of a Pirates starting pitching staff that for all intents and purposes had been overachieving. Just two short months ago he was part of the strength of the staff. However, now he may be a liability. There may be hope for McDonald though. There is a time tested method that generally works wonders for rejuvenating and awakening the focus and determination of players that may have lost their groove and a bit of their swagger. It is called a Greyhound Lines ticket to the minor leagues. Whoever needs rest, a kick in the rear or a big sloppy Greek kiss to get them pumped and motivated then so be it but the Pirates cannot continue to bring “lame” horses to run in the 2012 “derby.”

The finale against the Padres was certainly a rough and tumble affair. Don’t believe me just ask Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “That’s the hard part of the game. One good thing about this club is we’ll dance with the hard part of the game.” Hurdle went on to say this, “When you throw your kids the keys to the car and tell them to take it for a ride, sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to end up. It seemed like we were in the ditch here for a couple days.”

Well Clint you can bet your sweet bippy on this. There will be no tow trucks with Cincinnati or St. Louis logos pasted on the side of them to help pull your team out of that ditch. As a matter of fact you had better not leave that car unattended too long because when you return it might be sitting up on blocks.

As of Monday the teams that the Pirates are scheduled to face to complete their August schedule had a won-lost record of 217-232. The teams that the Reds are scheduled to face sported a record of 247-326. Hey there let’s not forget the Cardinals, those pesky, never truly out of it Cardinals. In August the “Redbirds” face teams with a combined won-lost record of 300 wins, 272 losses. The Cardinals have the most difficult schedule of all three of top NL Central top contenders. The Reds have the easiest schedule to complete the month of Augustus. All the Pirates have to do mathematically is to win four more games than they lose in August and they should continue to be in the thick of the NL wildcard race. At this point in the season unless the Reds experience a major collapse in September, I am now going out on a limb and predicting that they will be the 2012 NL Central Champion.

But before the ink dries here is another tidbit you might consider. When you take the recent past into consideration, the Cardinals “know” how to win during crunch time. They were at one point during the latter point of the 2011 season more than ten, count em, ten games out of first but they were still able to ride the “pony’ across the finish line. They had no excuses about injuries or anything else; they insisted upon cashing in all of their “git er done” points. The team returned to postseason play in 2011 as the Wild Card and went on to beat the Phillies in five games in the Division Series and the Brewers in six games in the National League Championship Series. They defeated the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series in seven games.

Right now our hometown Buccos may be playing not to lose as opposed to just playing to win. Ya can’t be defensive when you are on offense and you can’t be offensive when you’re on defense, you digggg… Peace

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@new­pittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-68741.)

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