Red Sox-Pirates: Game On

By Chad Carlson

Photo Credit: AP
When the 2011 schedule was released to the public late last year, one series piqued the interest of most fans:  the three-game set against the Boston Red Sox.  After all, they are one of the most celebrated franchises in recent baseball memory, and they were once again predicted by many to represent the American League in this year’s World Series.
The Red Sox have certainly lived up to expectations thus far.  After a very slow start, they have rallied themselves to the best record in the American League, and currently sit 14 games over the .500 mark and, once again, are the favorites for the Fall Classic.
While Boston is meeting expectations, the Pittsburgh Pirates are shattering all expectations by the so called “experts.”  Most picked the Buccos to finish only slightly better than the horrid 57-105 mark they posted last year.  To the astonishment of fans, critics, and other teams around the league, the Pirates sit at 37-37, and are only three games out of the National League Central lead.
So just how important is this series between the Red Sox and Pirates?  For Boston, this is just another test for them to see how dominant they can be over an inferior opponent (on paper, at least).  They will be in a battle for the A.L. East title with the New York Yankees from now through late September and beyond, and more than likely, we’ll see another playoff series between the two rivals.  Blah blah blah.
But to the Pirates…this is the biggest series of the season thus far.  The Buccos come in with something to play for that is more than just to impress and entertain the sellout crowds that are coming in to watch the most anticipated series of the season.  The Pirates are in a divisional race this late in the season in nearly two decades.  This series is big…really big.
First of all, it is a great test to see where the Pirates stand up against the elite teams in Major League Baseball.  After all, the Red Sox are one of the top three teams in baseball, and they combine good pitching with overpowering offense, led by Adrian Gonzalez, who is hitting the face off the baseball.
The Buccos will face some pretty tough competition on the mound as well.  The Red Sox will send Jon Lester (9-3), Josh Beckett (6-2), and Tim Wakefield (4-2) to the hill on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The Pirates will counter with Paul Maholm (3-8), Jeff Karstens (4-4), and James McDonald (5-4). 
It is crucial for the Pirates to play a tough series this weekend.  Sitting at .500 and only three games out of the lead in the N.L. Central, this is the make-it-or-break-it point in the season, just before the all star break.  Following the series against Boston, the Bucs travel to Toronto for a three-game series against the Blue Jays, closing out interleague play for 2011. 
Pirates’ fans:  consider a 3-3 record over the next two series a victory…a big victory.
That being said, the Pirates have performed well against tough opponents.  Earlier this month, they took two of three from the Philadelphia Phillies, who came into the series with the best record in baseball.  The very next series, the Buccos took two of three from the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of the big surprises of the year thus far.  They’ve taken series from the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field and the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium.  Clearly, this is not the Pittsburgh Pirates’ team from years past. 
The pitching needs to be solid this weekend, but expectations need to be realistic.  Maholm, Karstens, and McDonald will not shut down the Red Sox offense in three consecutive games.  The Pirates’ offensive production will dictate the fate of this series.  They will need to score at least four or five runs to win these games.  Fortunately, the Pirates come into this series having scored 14 runs in their last two games against the Baltimore Orioles.  This type of run production will put them in great position to take at least a game from Boston.
With the best team in the American League coming into town, and the Pirates exceeding all expectations and sitting at that elusive .500 mark, this weekend’s events at PNC Park promise to be that of a playoff atmosphere. 
Make no mistake…we will learn a lot about this year’s Pirates’ team over the next few days.  In the face of adversity and as they take on arguably the best team in the game, how will they respond?  We might just discover that this group of young players, led by the likes of McCutchen and Walker, might just be ready to make a serious run at the division this year. 
But only time will tell. 
Enough talk…enough speculation…just bring on the Red Sox.  Game on.
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!

Chad Carlson

Co-Editor of Fans From The Stands, Pirates' Beat Writer For Armchair Report, Sports writer for AMN, SteelTownRock And Music City Encore Editor

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