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After struggling in May, can the Pirates get hot heading into tough June stretch?

The Bucs will face the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers over the next 13 games.

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates are among the many surprises during the 2023 Major League Baseball season so far, at least in the month of April. They finished the month with a 20-8 record and led the National League Central division.

Then the month of May came along, and by all measures, it was awful. They had a six-game losing streak to open the month and won only one series while splitting one other. They went 8-18 but finished the month winning a series against the San Francisco Giants and have won two games in a row.

Heading into play on Friday, the Pirates are over .500 at 28-27, and they’re miraculously in second place in the National League Central division standings even after that awful month of play. 

June is a big test for the Pirates. They play 13 in-division games, meaning they will control their destiny this month, and they will also show the rest of baseball if April was a fluke or if May was a fluke.

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Ethan Smith, the host of the Locked On Pirates podcast, discussed the Pirates’ upcoming schedule and how it needs to be positive for them.

"This is a very big weekend for the NL Central," Smith commented. "You have the Pittsburgh Pirates playing the St. Louis Cardinals, and you have the Milwaukee Brewers playing the Cincinnati Reds. So this is a pretty big weekend and a big start already for the Pirates.”

The difference in 2023 is that teams play fewer games against their division rivals. Instead of 19 games, it’s down to 13 in most cases. The loss of six head-to-head games against your rivals can be huge, especially in the NL Central's case.

At the moment, the division is up for grabs. The worst team in the division is the Chicago Cubs, who are only four and a half games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. The St. Louis Cardinals are also four and a half games back but have one more win and loss than the Cubs and are ahead of them by percentage points. The Pirates have one fewer win than the division-leading Brewers, so this next stretch of games is important.

This weekend, the Pirates are playing the Cardinals in Pittsburgh. Then from June 13 until June 21, the Pirates are playing the Cubs in Chicago and the Brewers in Milwaukee, and then they welcome the Cubs to Pittsburgh in the last series of that nine-game stretch.

And it doesn’t get easier for the Pirates. They are also playing the New York Mets, the San Diego Padres, and the surging Miami Marlins this month.

Smith thinks that while this schedule looks daunting for the Pirates, May was tougher when they played teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners. He believes it will be a positive month for the Bucs if they take care of business against their division foes. 

The bottom line is the Pirates will need to step it up against the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers in order to stay in the race or pull ahead of the Brewers for the division lead, but they’ll also need to play as they did in April; otherwise, it could be a long summer in Pittsburgh.

BE SURE to listen and subscribe to the Locked On Pirates podcast wherever you get your podcasts!

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