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Bucs celebrate, then resume pursuit of Central title

Bucs celebrate, then resume pursuit of Central title

Bucs celebrate, then resume pursuit of Central title

CHICAGO -- It was the ultimate paradox, of course: the Pirates celebrated Monday night because the team they are chasing won.

Oddities like that can happen when 60 percent of your division -- three out of the five teams -- is heading into the playoffs, only their seedings to be determined.

The Bucs will not take their eyes off the prize: the Cardinals, and the National League Central lead they still hold by two games. Their post-bash hangover can't be bad enough for them to overlook the huge advantage of a division title over a Wild Card entry.

It isn't so much having to win the extra play-in game as a Wild Card to reach the Division Series into which division champs get a pass -- but having to burn your best available pitcher in that Wild Card game for the chance to advance. That is a considerable advantage to the division winner that can align its rotation any way it wants.

The Bucs have two remaining games here against the Cubs, while the Cardinals wrap their series against a Nationals team that will be challenged emotionally to stay in the fight.

Then the Bucs will travel to Cincinnati for a season-ending series with the Reds that, in a practical sense, will be the preliminary round of the playoffs.

If the status quo holds, the winner of that series will get to host the Wild Card game, definitely a significant plum.

"We're doing the celebrating here, because we've earned it," Andrew McCutchen said in the boisterous visitors clubhouse of Wrigley Field late Monday night. "But we're not done. Tomorrow, it's back at it."

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.

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