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Big stretch for the Pirates

The next 10 days will go a long way to determine the Pirates' fate this season.

Today, the Bucs start a three-game series against the Cardinals at PNC Park. After that, it's a brutal, seven-game trip on the road against NL East powers Atlanta (four games) and Philadelphia (three games).

The Pirates begin play today percentage points ahead of the Brewers for first place in the NL Central. The Cardinals are only one game back while the Reds are four. The Braves and Phillies, for now, look like two playoff teams, with the loser of their NL East race likely the wild-card winner.

If the Pirates can survive these 10 days, then they head into August a contender.

If they stumble, especially in the first half of this stretch, I can easily see management holding off on any big moves before the July 31 trade deadline.

Hopefully, the Pirates can continue their strong play, find some key hitting and get some big wins. Then it's up to general manager Neal Huntington to show us what he can do.


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So much for Byron the great backup

I never understood the Steelers' fascination with their backup quarterbacks.

They've had either Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich for what seems like ages now.

And when the Steelers really needed a backup, Leftwich couldn't deliver.

Leftwich rambled 31 yards for a touchdown Sunday against the Ravens, but other than that burst, the Steelers couldn't do anything on offense in a 13-10 loss that puts them in a bad position in the AFC North.

Leftwich, with his long delivery, looks better suited for the Pirates' bullpen than behind center.

He went 18-for-39 passing for 201 yards, but couldn't help a Steelers' offense that looks lost right now.

The Ravens came into the game with a weak defense. The thought was Leftwich could manage the game, the Steelers could find a running back to rely on and they'd escape with a win.

It didn't work out that way.

And it looks like we could see Batch at QB this week -- or someone else.

The Steelers are worried about Leftw…