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Ready for Buc-tober

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The most recent TV spot in Major League Baseball’s “THIS” campaign is narrated by Joe Maddon, the first-year manager of the Chicago Cubs.

“September brings its own energy,” he begins.

Maddon understands this as well as anybody, as his managerial track record is one of the best in baseball.
With just three weeks left in the regular season, Maddon’s Cubs continue to battle the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League Central title,

If the regular season were to end today, all three teams would be in the 2015 postseason.

Maddon’s Cubs sit 6.5 games out of first place at press time. The Pirates, on the other hand, are just 2.5 games behind the Cards for the first time since July.

While every teams wants to win its division, the wild card game isn’t exactly a death sentence. Last season, the San Francisco Giants were able to take the one-game playoff in Pittsburgh and continue to ride their hot streak to their third World Series title in five seasons.

As we also saw last year, an 88-win season can be erased in that one game. The Pirates are looking to avoid a repeat performance in 2015 and given their play of late, this appears likely.

On Sept. 9, the Bucs won their 83rd game of the season, but long gone is the significance of that number for the Pirates.

The only numbers that matter this season? The previously mentioned 2.5 and their magic number (going into Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Cubs) of 9.

Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle may not be in the race for National League Manager-of-the-Year, and maybe Andrew McCutchen’s performance this season isn’t quite an MVP one, but the Pirates are certainly in the running for the NL pennant.

The team has rolled in the second half of the season, aided by some less-than-blockbuster moves at the trade deadline.

The most notable addition by general manager Neal Huntington was adding J.A. Happ. With the exception of his first start, the veteran lefty has been nothing short of spectacular since arriving in Pittsburgh.

Since Aug. 14, Happ is 5-1 with a 1.00 earned run average and a 36:5 strikeout ratio.

In addition to the extremely important acquisitions of catcher Francisco Cervelli and infielder Jung Ho Kang in the offseason, Huntington has put together one of the most well-rounded teams in franchise history.

The results are there. The club has racked up 86 wins, with 20 games still to be played. Although the Bucs have gained four games on the Cardinals in the last 10 days, their biggest test lies ahead.

Before the Central title is claimed by the Pirates, Cards or Cubs, the Bucs will face Jake Arrieta of the Cubs as well as Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Dodgers over their next two series. All three are in consideration for the National League Cy Young Award.

I don’t believe that pitching alone wins ballgames, but the Cardinals do not have the starting pitching to compete with these teams.

If the Pirates can survive those games, it might be time for the Cards to panic.

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Ready for Buc-tober