A five-game series with St. Louis -- and right in the middle of it, the often-defining non-waiver Trade Deadline. You almost expect Pittsburgh general manager Neil Huntington to pop in a cassette and hear a mysterious voice, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it ..."
Instead of a tape, the Pirates have self-destructed the last two seasons, and Huntington has worked for weeks under the burden of preventing a three-peat. He now has days -- until Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET Deadline -- to reconsider deals he has declined or to start from scratch on new ones.
If the Bucs make a move, it will be of the blockbuster variety. Don't expect the low-impact, bandage-type transactions of a year ago, when the Pirates neither lost established players nor gained any who made an immediate difference (left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was actually acquired from Houston seven days before the Deadline).
The trade market has also proven to be a moving target for Huntington. Does he react to recent developments? Or would he be overreacting to the loss of Jason Grilli, to Jose Tabata's forearm injury or to the sudden inability of Clint Hurdle's biggest guns to get a measly hit with a runner in scoring position?
Grilli's forearm tendon injury and Rodriguez's slow way back from his own forearm injury has raised Huntington's interest in pitching help, but that is still secondary to getting an offensive jolt in right field. The Bucs try not to sound desperate -- not a good negotiating tactic -- but they are desperate for a right-handed bat to play there.
Thus, Alex Rios or Marlon Byrd make a lot more sense than other names tossed around, like Nate Schierholtz or Justin Morneau. They are left-handed hitters and the Pirates don't want to displace Garrett Jones -- confident he can again turn it on for the second half, as he did last season -- but to complement him.
Huntington is also aware the Pirates are not facing an ordinary challenge. They are trying to beat out possibly the best team in the Majors -- the Cardinals have owned the top record most of the season -- a tall order requiring more than just hoping for the best with the status quo.
Although the Pirates are in what could be considered an encouraging position for a postseason berth -- a seven-game lead for a Wild Card berth -- they have to go all-out for the National League Central title. The revised Wild Card one-game, play-in rules dictate against settling for that.
For all of these reasons, Huntington is aiming high. He is also staying true to his reputation as a GM with the tightest lips.
"If the right deal is there, we'll make it -- hopefully sooner, rather than later. If not, we don't make one," said Huntington.
The possibility of immediately impacting the showdown with the Cardinals could also enter into what Huntington does. He said the ongoing series with the Redbirds won't influence moves -- but that could be a misleading disclaimer. Given Rodriguez's unavailability, the Bucs would like to throw a third left-hander alongside Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano against St. Louis. An addition such as that would also help way beyond this week.
Consider that of the Pirates' 59 remaining games, 14 will be against the Cardinals -- which accounts for 24 percent of the schedule. Add six games against the Reds, and the Bucs will play one out of every three remaining games against the teams they are trying to outlast in the division.
In trade talks, some rival executives are believed to have tried to convince Huntington to part with some of the top talent in the club's Minor League system for the prime talent they have made available. Other GMs have asked for righty Jameson Taillon, outfielder Gregory Polanco and shortstop Alen Hanson.
Huntington hasn't turned a completely deaf ear to this. In trying to get him to loosen his hold on top prospects, those other GMs haven't been shy about reminding him that much more than the Bucs' streak of losing seasons is at stake -- they are also playing to enter, and go deep, in the postseason.