First Pitch: The Pittsburgh Pirates in an Expanded Post-Season, 2013-2019

Yesterday I looked at whether an expanded post-season would be good for teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving them more opportunities to make the playoffs. I wanted to expand on that today, going back to the 2013 season to see an alternate reality version of what the early playoffs would look like under a 16-team system.

2013

Actual Result: Pirates won the Wild Card game against Cincinnati, then lost the NLDS in five games to St. Louis.

Alternate Result: Pirates would be the number four seed, playing a best-of-three series against the Nationals, with the winner going to the NLDS to play the winner of St. Louis and either San Diego or San Francisco.

Potential Changes: The Pirates would now need to win two games to advance to the NLDS, where they’d most likely play St. Louis again in a Best-of-Five series. St. Louis would also have to advance, and I’m sure the pitching matchups would look much different.

2014

Actual Result: Pirates lost the Wild Card game to San Francisco.

Alternate Result: Pirates would be the number four seed, playing a best-of-three series against the Giants.

Potential Changes: They’d probably still lose the game against Madison Bumgarner, meaning they’d have to sweep the next two games to advance. I’m not sure how this would change their plans to use Gerrit Cole in the final weekend of the regular season, since it would now be the difference between the number three and four seeds.

2015

Actual Result: Pirates lost the Wild Card game to the Cubs, with the teams having the second and third best records in the league, respectively.

Alternate Result: Pirates would be the number four seed, playing a series against the Giants.

Potential Changes: This would be much preferred to a one-game series against Jake Arrieta. If the Pirates beat the Giants, they would go on to face the winner of a St. Louis/Arizona series in the NLDS.

2016

Actual Result: Pirates miss the playoffs with a 78-83 record.

Alternate Result: Pirates would make the playoffs as the number eight seed, playing the Cubs in a best-of-three series.

Potential Changes: The Pirates would make the playoffs, where anything could happen. They were 4-14 against the Cubs that season, so the most likely thing to happen would be an early exit from the playoffs.

2017

Actual Result: Pirates miss the playoffs with a 75-87 record.

Alternate Result: Pirates would have still missed the playoffs.

Potential Changes: The one thing that I wonder about here is whether they would have traded Tony Watson for Oneil Cruz. You could say the same about the Mark Melancon trade in 2016. Neal Huntington was in No Man’s Land at this point, trying to get the fifth playoff spot. How does his plan change when there are eight spots?

2018

Actual Result: Pirates missed the playoffs with an 82-79 record.

Alternate Result: Pirates would be the number eight seed, although this is in doubt. They played one less game than the Diamondbacks and Nationals, who had 82-80 records. The Nationals would make it as the second best team in the NL East that year. Assuming the Pirates won their missing game, they would win the number eight seed.

Potential Changes: The Pirates would play the Brewers in a best-of-three series, with the winner going on to face the winner of the Cubs/Rockies series. The Pirates were 12-7 against Milwaukee that year, 9-10 against the Cubs, and 3-3 against the Rockies, so their chances could have been interesting. Continuing the “what would Neal Huntington do with expanded playoffs” thought process, would the Pirates have traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen prior to this season?

2019

Actual Result: Pirates finished with the second worst record in the NL.

Alternate Result: Pirates would still miss the playoffs.

Potential Changes: None for the Pirates, although does Neal Huntington remain in the organization following this season, with playoff appearances in five of the last seven seasons?

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