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

Tim Williams

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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  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Did not get a chance to watch yesterday, but Cole’s numbers were excellent. The best number of all was 10 and that is the amount of support provided by the Pirates yesterday. Ask Charlie Morton and AJ Burnett what they think about getting 10 runs or even 5 apiece. We are now at 88 wins and that was my prediction in July of what the Pirates would need to lock up a playoff slot. It may still be enough, but the Nationals have put some scare into the last 9 games. I thought the Pirates would struggle to get to 88, but they have played much better than expected, and they can still break 90 wins for the season. I would also like to see Pedro drive in another 7 runs to reach 100 RBI’s for the season. Thank you for stepping up when we needed it most – Cole, Walker, Alvarez, etc.

    Now, if we hit like we are capable, and pitch like we have all season, it could be a fun last week of the 2013 season. And, if I am not mistaken, the Nationals and the Cardinals have to play 3 games yet. I think the Nats are 8-2 in their last 10 and if they run the table in the final 9 games, they can finish with 91 wins. I would love to see the Pirates right there in first or very close going on the road next week.

  • buster09

    Who was the commenter that,several weeks ago,tried to tell us that Cole was pretty much never going to be a Top Of The Rotation guy ?

  • leadoff

    It is too bad Cole has so many innings, if he did not, he would be my starter in any playoff or wild card game. He is the best pitcher on the staff and one of the best young pitchers in baseball, I could care less about stat comparisons, what he is right now is what he is, not what he was in Indy or in May, June or July. What he is right now is one of he best pitchers in baseball, his stuff and his application of his stuff say he is, not his stats.

  • smurph

    Even prior to yesterday’s game I was starting to get the sense that Cole is their best starter RIGHT NOW. He will be the most rested starter at the close of the regular season. I don’t think it is out of the question that he could start that first post-season game. I don’t think AJ has been good enough recently to be the guy. So it should be either Cole or Liriano. Maybe it will be determined by their last two outings. Liriano has still been dominant except for two bad outings. Many would say you shouldn’t put a rookie with half a season in the majors in a situation like that. However, Cole seems to have that mental toughness and attitude which is required to succeed in the most stressful of situations. Why not?

    • leadoff

      I don’t like A.J. in any big game, in fact if Liriano does not get it done in the first game against the Reds, I see a sweep for the Reds. I don’t think they can beat Bailey in the 2nd game and I don’t think A.J. is capable of a 1 or 2 run game, Sunday is up in the air, if Arroyo is on, that one will be gone to, Locke is going to give up his 2-4 runs no matter what. I wish they would have held Cole back for 1 more day of rest then threw him Friday and Liriano on Saturday and Burnett on Sunday. I hope I am wrong.

      • smurph

        History says that juggling your starters to put your top starters against teams you are competing with for getting to the playoffs usually doesn’t work. I agree with you that Friday is the key game, as both teams are going with their top starter. However, just like AJ, both Bailey and Arroyo are very inconsistent in their performances, and both can be beaten. Bailey throws a no-hitter, then can’t get out of the 4th inning his next start. And I’ve never really understood the success Arroyo has had. He is a soft tosser who locates his pitches well. His pitches don’t have great movement. He basically throws his fastball out of the zone, hoping hitters will chase it, or to try to set them up for his curveball.

        • Y2JGQ2

          Bailey always gives us problems, or not always, but usually. Arroyo is never better than okay and as long as we don’t go fishing, he is garbage pretty much all the time. he’s just an innings eater. He gets teams to swing at bad pitches. go up there blindfolded and you could probably get ten walks by never swinging at a pitch he throws. In fact, if i was the coach, i’d tell them in the first inning to swing at nothing, even in two strikes. Nothing. Make him throw strikes and see early that he isn’t going to do crap if he doesn’t. When the #4 batter hits a homerun on the first fastball he throws over in inning 2- then its on.

      • Y2JGQ2

        I think you are confused leadoff: there is no series- assuming us and the reds are the WC teams, there is NO series. Its a 1 game playoff.

        • Y2JGQ2

          I guess you are just talking about the upcoming series, so forget that lol

  • piratemike

    I once wrote here that I thought Taillon was the better prospect than Cole, I hope I was right ,can you imagine Taillon coming up and pitching better than Cole? Wow, what a one- two punch that would be. Too bad Glasnow isn’t in AAA next year.

    • smurph

      You just don’t know, but to me, Glasnow is a better prospect than Taillon. He had incredible numbers this year.