CINCINNATI -- Life in the new, slimmer National League Central will be considerably more division-intensive for the Pirates. As revealed in the 2013 Major League schedule announced Wednesday afternoon, the Bucs will play each of the other four NL Central teams 19 times.
Four? Yes, the Majors' most packed division will be joining the five-team crowd, with Houston's move to the American League West.
This playing load, in sharp contrast to past scheduling, will make the division race more balanced and competitive. In the current 2012 schedule, for instance, the Bucs do not meet each Central foe an equal number of times, and played only 15 games against the Cardinals.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, who has had a couple days to digest the schedule after getting a sneak preview of it, is all in favor of the tweak.
"I like the fact we'll play our division rivals an even number of times," Hurdle said prior to the finale of the Bucs' series with the Reds. "It was staggered this year, so I do like the equal number of games against them all."
The Pirates in '13 will meet a new Interleague foe -- or a familiar foe, depending on how one wants to look at it. The Interleague rotation has the Bucs going against the AL West, and accordingly they will host the Astros at PNC Park on May 17-19.
That arrangement will also mean the Pirates have to make more frequent trips to the West Coast, always rough terrain for them. In addition to another early-season (April 5-10) visit to Los Angeles and Phoenix, they will travel to Anaheim and Seattle on June 21-26, and return to California on an Aug. 19-25 swing through San Diego and San Francisco.
"So the schedule does present some different challenges -- like having to go West a few more times," said Hurdle, whose club went 1-8 in California this season.
In addition to home-and-home two-game series with traditional Interleague opponent Detroit (May 27-30), the Pirates will also host the Mariners (May 7-8) and visit the Rangers (Sept. 9-11).
In a definite oddity, the Pirates will open the season at home for the second consecutive year, hosting the Cubs in the April 1 inaugural and, following an off-day, continuing the series against them on April 3-4.
The 2013 regular season could have a heated conclusion, as the Reds, most likely the NL Central's division champions, will help bring down the curtain in PNC Park on Sept. 27-29.
Next season will thus end five days earlier than this one (Oct. 3), which will allow more flexibility in postseason scheduling.
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.