Five games ago, Gerrit Cole won game number 81, ending the Pirates’ 20-year losing streak. It was one of his best starts of the year, and was only topped by tonight’s outing, which just happened to be win number 82.
As far as symbolism goes, having Gerrit Cole end the losing streak, and then post the first winning season is great. The losing streak began because of the departure of plenty of talented players, including staff ace Doug Drabek. It continued for so long for many reasons, but a large reason why the streak went so long was due to the lack of an ace since Drabek. And now the streak has been ended and a the first winning season since 1992 has been secured, all thanks to the ace of the future.
Cole looked like a future ace tonight. He went seven shutout innings, giving up three hits, two walks, and striking out nine. After his last outing I pointed out that Cole was starting to look like an ace. In the second half he has the second best xFIP in the rotation, behind only A.J. Burnett, and slightly ahead of Francisco Liriano. The downside of Cole winning game numbers 81 and 82 is that the Pirates lost four in a row in between those starts. A big reason for that is because they saw a rare struggle from Liriano, saw a bad outing from Burnett which has been more common lately, saw a decent outing from Jeff Locke who eventually fell apart late in the game, and saw Charlie Morton struggle then leave his start early with an injury. With all of that going on, the Pirates definitely need Cole to step up down the stretch.
They also needed him to be an ace tonight because the Texas Rangers had their own ace on the mound. Yu Darvish came into the game with the best strikeout percentage among Major League starters. That’s not always the best recipe for the Pirates, since pitchers tend to set career bests when they play the Pirates. Darvish was dealing, but only struck out six in seven innings. Still, Cole wasn’t getting much help. The only run came on back to back doubles in the seventh inning. Marlon Byrd doubled with two outs, then scored when Pedro Alvarez laced an opposite field double to the gap to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
Cole had some problems later in the game. Earlier he was pounding the zone, getting strikeouts on low sliders, and working efficiently. Later in the game it looked like he was trying to nibble or get batters to chase too often outside. That led to his pitch count elevating in the final two innings. He got out of each inning with no damage, and finished with 92 pitches on the night, throwing 64 strikes.
The Pirates turned to Tony Watson for the eighth inning, who pitched a perfect frame. As I wrote in the last Cole recap, Watson has been one of the best relievers in the second half. Jason Grilli isn’t ready for high leverage innings yet, but the Pirates don’t really need him with the way Watson has been pitching. Mark Melancon came on to close down the game, wrapping up win number 82 and giving the Pirates their first winning season since 1992.