Bucs officially eliminated, but will keep moving forward

Bucs officially eliminated, but will keep moving forward

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates began the season with postseason expectations and championship aspirations. They want to play meaningful games in September and playoff baseball in October, as general manager Neal Huntington has often said.

But that dream officially ended late Tuesday night, when the Pirates lost their fourth straight game, a 6-4 defeat to the Cubs, and the Giants beat the Rockies, 12-3, in San Francisco. The combination of those two outcomes left Pittsburgh mathematically eliminated from the postseason race.

The Pirates' odds of making the postseason, per FanGraphs.com, reached 0.0 percent on Tuesday morning for the first time this season. The pack of three National League Wild Card contenders -- the Mets, Giants and Cardinals -- simply separated itself too far from the Pirates, who have done little down the stretch to catch up.

After a four-game sweep of the Brewers at Miller Park thrust them back into the postseason picture, the Pirates have lost 19 of their past 29 games and fallen three games under .500. Their odds dwindled over the past three weeks, but they remained close enough to not officially fall out of the race until Tuesday night.

And so the Bucs' run of consecutive postseason appearances ends at three, a stretch that included three trips to the NL Wild Card Game, one memorable victory in 2013 at PNC Park and a five-game NL Division Series loss to the Cardinals.

Now, the Pirates can begin looking forward to next season. But first, they will experience a rarity in their recent history: meaningless games in September, in the sense that they won't impact the Bucs' postseason standing, but not games without meaning.

"Obviously, this season hasn't gone the way we wanted it to. The last couple years, we've played really good baseball," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "Right now, what's there to lose? … You've just got to keep playing."

After wrapping up their home schedule with two more games against the Cubs, who have clinched home-field advantage through the NL playoffs with the Majors' best record, the Bucs will head to St. Louis for a three-game weekend showdown with the Cardinals, who are still battling for one of the last two NL playoff spots.

"If we play good baseball, I think we can compete with anybody. We've just got to get our head down and continue moving forward," Mercer said. "If things aren't going our way, we can also spoil somebody else's party, too."

The Pirates would have to win each of their last five games to secure a winning record for the fourth straight season. A 4-1 finish would at least provide Pittsburgh with its fourth straight non-losing season, a mark of some significance after the club experienced 20 straight losing campaigns.

"Playoffs are the goal you set at the start of the year. We had a goal to win our division. We had a goal to get to the playoffs. We had a goal to win the World Series," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Your focus is to win the game you're playing that day. How that works out, time will tell.

"Finishing over .500 is better than finishing under .500 from my perspective, simple as that. Win as many games as you can, but you can only win them one at a time."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.