First Pitch: Gerrit Cole Starting to Look Like an Ace When it Counts

Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates

Gerrit Cole has been pitching like an ace the last few starts. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole has always projected as the future ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That future could be sooner than expected.

Tonight Cole had another dominant start, which was his third straight outing where he posted a high strikeout total. This time Cole struck out 12 in 6 innings, which is a remarkable total. That gives him 28 strikeouts in 20 innings over his last three starts. He had 29 strikeouts in 35.2 innings in his six starts before that.

It’s important to keep perspective about the opponents Cole was facing. The Padres have the seventh highest strikeout rate in the majors at 21.1%. By comparison, the Pirates offense strikes out 21.9%, and we’ve seen how bad the Pirates have been with strikeouts this year. Cole also dominated the Cubs in his previous start, a team that doesn’t have the best offense.

But you can’t overlook the fact that he beat the Texas Rangers in the first start. Plus, it’s one thing to beat weak teams like the Cubs or Padres. It’s another thing to absolutely dominate them.

I wrote about Cole a few weeks ago, pointing out that his xFIP has been the second best in the rotation in the second half. The updated totals, prior to tonight’s start:

1. A.J. Burnett – 2.78

2. Gerrit Cole – 2.85

3. Francisco Liriano – 3.41

4. Charlie Morton – 3.42

5. Jeff Locke – 4.06

Cole remains the second best pitcher in the rotation during the second half, only he is now closer to the top spot, and that will probably improve once tonight’s start is added in. The only concern with Cole is that he has 179 innings on the season, and will add one more start this season to possibly put him up near 185. But Cole’s performance the last few starts, his performance in the second half, and the lack of any fourth option makes him a lock for the rotation despite those innings.

I don’t know if I would call Cole an ace just yet. He has looked like an ace the last three starts, and he could very well look like an ace in his final start of the year next week against the Cubs. What makes an ace is consistency. Guys with Cole’s stuff usually have an easy time putting up consistent numbers. So while he’s pitching like an ace in his recent starts, he’s not an “ace” just yet. At this point in the season, the former is better than the latter for the Pirates. With the playoffs two weeks away, they don’t need someone who has performed like an ace over the long-term. They just need someone to perform like an ace over the next month.

Playoff Race Updates

**The Cardinals lost to the Rockies in 15 innings, which puts the Pirates one game back in the NL Central.

**The Reds didn’t play today, so they fell one game back from the Pirates heading into this weekend’s important series.

**The Dodgers clinched the NL West with a win today. They are 88-65, tied with the Pirates, but one back from the Cardinals. At this point the NL Central winner would have the second seed in the playoffs.

**The Nationals won 3-2 against the Marlins, so the magic number for the Pirates to clinch the playoffs is at four.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Plow Padres, 10-1

**Pirates Notebook: Attitude Equals Results

**Pirates Playoff Odds: Bucs Close to Clinching, But Division Underdogs

**A Realistic View of Mark Melancon’s “Struggles” as the Closer

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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