ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates' series finale Sunday here against the Cardinals also ended an unusual, perhaps unprecedented, start to their 2014 schedule.
After 26 consecutive games against division foes, the Bucs said farewell to the National League Central. They are getting away from the NL altogether, in fact, for a five-game Interleague detour -- two in Baltimore prior to three at home against Toronto.
"I don't know if I've ever been involved in something like this before," manager Clint Hurdle said of the exclusive intradivision getaway. "We don't make up the schedule, just play it."
As an added quirk, the Pirates got their first looks at each NL Central foe, not having met any during preseason play. No surprises, merely confirmation of the division's reputation as one of MLB's toughest.
"The team here [the Cardinals] has been in 11 postseasons out of 15. The Reds, three out of five," Hurdle said. "We knew the Brewers would be tough because they're healthy, added a starter [Matt Garza], have [Ryan] Braun in the lineup and their bullpen came out throwing blanks. The Cubs rate building and growing, a team you can never overlook.
"So it's going to be a very good battle."
General manager Neal Huntington, on a conference call with reporters, acknowledged the high level of play that has given Milwaukee the early command of the division.
"But we can't worry about what other teams are doing," Huntington said. "We just have to focus on getting back to playing the way we are capable."
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.