Who's next for Pirates? Look out West

Who's next for Pirates? Look out West

ATLANTA -- The Pirates are in the dance. Now they just need a partner.

They do not have many to choose from. Regardless of how they ultimately enter their second straight postseason -- as a National League Wild Card winner, or as the upstart NL Central Division champions -- the Bucs will hit the floor with either the Giants or the Dodgers.

One possible, major exception: Being one game behind the NL Central-leading Cardinals in the loss column increases the possibility of the teams being tied after 162.

That would necessitate a Game No. 163 to determine the division champ, which, due to regular-season head-to-head play, would take place Monday in St. Louis.

Otherwise, as a Wild Card entrant, the Bucs would most likely be matched with the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game. Currently holding the No. 1 NL Wild Card spot, the Pirates would host that game on Wednesday.

If the Pirates take the division crown, with or without the tiebreaker with the Cardinals, they would meet the NL West winner. The Dodgers beat the Giants on Tuesday night to take a 4 1/2-game division lead and cut their magic number to one.

As the division winner with the best record, the East's Washington Nationals will draw the winner of the NL Wild Card Game.

So that is another inducement for the Pirates to snatch the division away from the Cards: Of all the first-round possible playoff pairings, the Nationals are the only team against which the Pirates had a losing regular-season record, albeit not totally lopsided at 3-4.

Bearing in mind that a Wild Card team cannot own home-field advantage in any postseason series, it is also worth noting that the Pirates have lost four straight games at Nationals Park, including getting swept in an Aug. 15-17 series.

Having reversed their historical difficulties with playing on the West Coast, the Bucs held regular-season edges over both the Giants (4-2) and Dodgers (5-2). Furthermore, Pittsburgh took series at both AT&T Park (two out of three) and Dodger Stadium (three out of four).

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.