Coming off of a historic season, the Pittsburgh Pirates enter 2014 with one of the most compelling schedules they have had in recent memory. Many important series will be occurring throughout the year, but only a select few could be considered intriguing enough to crack the list that follows.
12. May 2-4 vs. Toronto Blue Jays
This early May visit to Pittsburgh by the Blue Jays will mark only the second time the Jays have ever traveled to the Steel City. More importantly, however, is that this series will mark the first trip back to Pittsburgh for Blue Jays' slugger Jose Bautista since he was designated for assignment and subsequently traded to Toronto for failed catcher Robinzon Diaz. Bautista is the one that got away from Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington, although he nearly managed to be dumped by the Blue Jays as well. Since he has changed his stance and swing mechanics, Bautista has become the most lethal power source in the American League, and fans can only imagine the emotions he will feel returning to where his career started. Aside from that storyline, the Blue Jays will be looking to attain the success many believed they were destined for prior to the 2013 season after they had acquired Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. The Pirates won the series the last time these teams met in 2011, and will look for similar results this time around.
11. April 14-16 @ Cincinnati Reds
The Pirates and Reds will meet for the first time in 2014 in Cincinnati for this mid-April series. The Reds will certainly be looking to avenge their loss to the Bucs in last year's Wild Card play-in game, although attendance will likely be low for this mid-week early-season set. The Reds/Pirates rivalry has gained traction in past years, rekindling a battle that was at it's peak during the 1970's. Both of these teams have a strong distaste for each other, and so do their fans, so any game between the Pirates and Reds is a must-see.
10. June 23-25 @ Tampa Bay Rays
The Battle of modern-day Moneyball. That's what this set between the Pirates and Rays will be referred to, as Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman and Pirates GM Neal Huntington are two of the best minor-league system developers in the business. The Rays were the current-day Pirates before Andrew McCutchen even cracked the big leagues, so this series will be the battle of small-market heavyweights. The Pirates haven't visited Tropicana Field since 2003 when a bench-clearing brawl resulted in six players being suspended.
9. April 4-6 vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Starting at just the fourth game of the season, the first series of the year between the Pirates and the team responsible for eliminating them from the NLDS is sure to feature sellout crowds at PNC Park. The Cardinals will return to Pittsburgh for the first time since Michael Wacha pitched one of the greatest games in postseason history, nearly no-hitting the Bucs until Pedro Alvarez crushed a home run out of the stadium. This series will likely feature a pitching duel between Francisco Liriano and Adam Wainwright for the Sunday tilt that is sure to be entertaining to those who appreciate a battle of pitching and defense.
8. May 16-18 @ New York Yankees
It doesn't matter that the Yankees missed the postseason last year or that the team will be without Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. Anytime the Pirates play the Yankees, it causes a great stir in Pittsburgh. The team played at Yankee Stadium in 2005 and in 2007, but failed to win a single game in either appearance. When the Yankees came to Pittsburgh for the first time since the 1960 World Series in 2008, the Pirates took two of three. Even though the Yankees have lost a few of their stars, they've signed All-Stars Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, who destroyed Pirates pitching last postseason with St. Louis, and will likely be a more formidable team than they were the year prior.
7. August 11-14 vs./@ Detroit Tigers
The Pirates will play their interleague rivals, the Tigers, for a four game home-and-home split. The series will feature the battle of the prior year's NL MVP in McCutchen and AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. Detroit has the previous two AL Cy Young winners in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer as well as Anibal Sanchez, who pitched phenomenally last season. This mid-August series should show followers where the team stands with a month and a half before the postseason. Dropping three of four to the TIgers at this point of the season would be far more detrimental than if the team had dropped the series in late May last year.
6. May 29-June 1 @ Los Angeles Dodgers
A house of horrors, Dodger Stadium remains one of the toughest venues for the Pirates to win at. After being swept in LA during the first week of the 2013 season and leaving their record at 1-5, the Pirates never posted a week as bad for the rest of the season. The Dodger team was only beginning to learn how to play with each other at that point, though, as this year's squad is poised for a World Series run. There is no way the Pirates make it through October without having to dispatch the Dodgers, so these series will be important in determining who has the upper hand.
5. July 21-23 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Fans will certainly be looking forward to when the Dodgers set foot at PNC Park. The Pirates took two of three from LA at PNC Park last season, which just so happened to be the last series the Dodgers dropped before going on one of the most incredible runs of success in MLB history. This series will likely feature two of the top four teams in the NL when it is played, and the Bucs will look to make a statement by winning this set following the All-Star break.
4. September 16-18 vs. Boston Red Sox
Playing the defending World Champions in September will always constitute a big series. Add in the fact that the defending World Champions are the Boston Red Sox, one of the most popular teams in the country, and the intrigue only grows. The Red Sox will look very similar to the team that won it all in 2013, and the Pirates will be looking to gain momentum and win this series so they have something to build off of for the final two weeks, which will consist of some difficult road tests.
3. September 22-25 @ Atlanta Braves
Anytime the Pirates and Braves meet, fans will be forced to watch the highlight of Sid Bream sliding into home and winning the 1992 NLCS for the Braves, which set off 20 consecutive years of losing for the Bucs. The Braves are coming off a season where they won the NL East, yet seemed to fade away into oblivion late in the season. This year, the Braves will be looking to come on much stronger at the end of the year and the Bucs will likely be jockeying with Atlanta in the standings. Since this is the second-to-last series of the year, both of these teams will be feeling the pressure of crunch time. Drop three of four, and either team could be eliminated from the postseason.
2. September 1-3 @ St. Louis Cardinals
The final shot at the Cardinals this season will come at the onset of September in St. Louis, and if last season is any indication, this series will have major divisional implications. After losing their last series against the Cardinals in mid-September of 2013, the Pirates didn't have enough time to climb over St. Louis again. While this series will be played earlier in the month, the idea should remain in players' heads that dropping this series could put the division out of reach.
1. Sep 26-28 @ Cincinnati Reds
Alas, the series of the season will come at the very conclusion. A rematch of last season's ending series, the Pirates and Reds will matchup for what could be a battle under the exact circumstances of the year prior. The Reds came out flat in this series in 2013, leading to a three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates. Once the Pirates gained home field advantage from the Reds, they took advantage in the Wild Card play-in game and dispatched the Reds for the fourth consecutive time. This will be a playoff series in September.Tags: Baseball, Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, MLB, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Reds, Tigers, Yankees