Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates came up just short of the Cardinals in the National League Central. And then the Bucs had to fend off the feisty Cincinnati Reds in the playoff chase.
That battle didn't end until the NL Wildcard when the Pirates dispatched the Red Legs. Looking up at the Red Birds in the NL Central once again, there's just that one more contender to kick to the curb on the way to the playoffs for the second year running.
And that opponent comes in the form of a different NL Central hopeful.
With the pesky Milwaukee Brewers chasing them from behind, the Pirates took a huge stride toward clinching their second playoff berth in as many years on Thursday. Pittsburgh completed a sweep against the Boston Red Sox only to see the Cardinals complete a comeback victory against the Brew Crew in St. Louis. The win combined with Milwaukee's loss gives the Pirates a 3.5-game lead ahead of a weekend series between the two teams.
Gerrit Cole got the ball Thursday night and won his 10th game of the season, pitching his team to a 3-2 win against the anemic Boston Red Sox. Cole went seven innings and allowed just two runs on six hits. The former No. 1 overall pick struck out seven without walking a batter.
For the reigning World Series champs, the offensive struggles continue in a season where they have scored the fewest runs in the entire American League. The nighmarish season comes on the heels of the best offensive attack in all of baseball in 2013. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts provided the only scoring offense with RBI's in the third and eighth innings. Betts and Bogaerts have been a couple of bright spots down the stretch for a Boston team that started to prepare for the offseason in the middle of September.
Pittsburgh got its offense starting in the first when Brandon Workman walked Ike Davis with the bases loaded. Starling Marte launched his second home run of the series in the fifth when when he took Workman out to left. The solo job proved to be the decisive run in Pittsburgh's 82nd win of the season - clinching a winning season for the second year in a row.
Milwaukee now comes to town desperate for a sweep if they want to improve on their dwindling playoff odds. ESPN's forecaster gives Milwaukee just a 4.7 percent chance to reach October after leading the division for the majority of the season.