In an earlier post, I pointed out that the Pittsburgh Pirates were showing signs of life against the three weaker opponents of the National League Central. This was because the Pirates could actually win, in some cases, and came within a run or so in other instances, suggesting that a stronger version of the team could win such games outright.

But this past week shows why the Pirates won’t be contenders anytime soon. They were swept in a three-game series against the former division-leading Cardinals in St. Louis, then lost two of three against the now-leading Cincinnati Reds at home.

What’s worse, the win, (and one of the losses against St. Louis) was by only one run, while the remaining four losses were decisive (by four runs or more).

After having started the season 3-0 against Cincinnati, the Pirates have gone all of 2-7 against the Reds since then. Although the opening series makes the Bucs a very competitive 5-7 for the season, that took place before Cincinnati had found its stride.

There was no such opening series against the Cardinals, and the Bucs are 1-5 against them so far, with the one win coming at home. In fact, it is the Cardinals’ stronger showing against the Pirates that has kept them in competition with the Reds in the division.

And the inability of the Pirates to win even one game recently against San Diego at PETCO Park demonstrates they wouldn’t be very competitive even if they made it to the playoffs by some miracle. The Bucs have done better against weaker NL West teams.

The Pirates aren’t as overmatched elsewhere in the rest of the NL Central division.

Chicago is not only aging, but is the one team in the NL Central the Pirates can actually beat. Even otherwise weak Buc pitchers like Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, and Brian Burres can quash this team’s hitting.

Pittsburgh lost the first six games against Houston in Minute Maid Park (by mostly narrow margins), but then won two of three at home by very large margins. Houston is a weak team, and just got weaker with the trades of a bunch of their best players for prospects, doing what the Pirates did a year or two ago, and what they should have done earlier.

A “reversal of fortune” in 2007 over 2006 (from Astro dominance to Pirate dominance) following the retirement of some of the Astros’ better players may foreshadow what happens here next year.

Milwaukee is a stronger version of Houston, but should suffer at the end of 2011 with the loss of Prince Fielder, after having already lost Ben Sheets.

The Pirates lost their first four games to the Brewers, but after that have been a respectable 5-6 against this team, including having broken a string of more than 20 consecutive defeats at Miller Park.

The Pirates finally appear poised to make progress against some National League Central teams. But this recovery is embryonic and uneven, suggesting that the Bucs will have trouble holding their own, even in this weak division.

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