Gerrit Cole is a future ace. In the last month he has been pitching like a current ace. And tomorrow he is going to need to be an ace.
An ace is a stopper. An ace is a guy who you throw out for must-win games. Tomorrow is about as must-win as you can get this season.
The Pirates are down 1-0 in a best of five series. It’s not a surprise that they lost to Adam Wainwright. If you were looking at the matchups coming into the series, then game one definitely looked in the Cardinals favor. Games two and three looked to be in the Pirates’ favor. So really we’re at the expected point in this series, only the game one loss was much worse than anticipated.
Game two features Gerrit Cole on the mound, and while Cole has pitched like an ace lately, the playoffs are a totally different situation. Cole has never faced the Cardinals. A lot of his dominant outings in September came against bad teams (Brewers, Cubs, Padres, Cubs…only the Rangers had a winning record) and with rosters expanded in September. The fact that Cole dominated those teams doesn’t mean he will dominate the Cardinals, although he is capable of doing that.
If the Pirates win game two, then the series goes back to Pittsburgh even at 1-1. Game three features a great matchup of Francisco Liriano against Joe Kelly. You can’t guarantee a win in any game, but that one heavily favors the Pirates on paper. If Gerrit Cole wins, then there’s a good chance the Pirates head into their final home game of this series up 2-1. That gives Charlie Morton a chance to close out the series on Monday, or it gives either A.J. Burnett or Gerrit Cole a chance on Wednesday (and if Cole pitches well tomorrow, then he’s my game five starter on the road over Burnett).
If Cole loses, then the Pirates have to battle back. They could win the Liriano game, but they would need Charlie Morton to win. I like Morton more than a lot of people, but he has struggled against the Cardinals, and you don’t want him in a potential elimination game. Even if Morton wins, then you still need one more win from either Cole or Burnett in game five.
I think the Pirates can win game three. I think they could take at least one in games four and five. That means Gerrit Cole’s start tomorrow could be the difference between winning this series and losing the series.
Cole’s ace-like numbers came largely against bad teams, but he has pitched like one of the better pitchers on the staff in the second half using his advanced metrics. Tomorrow he needs to be an ace. The series favors the Pirates on paper if they win tomorrow. If they lose tomorrow, the series heavily favors the Cardinals, as any series would when one team goes up 2-0. A lot of rookie starters who get playoff experience either work as the fourth starter, or out of the bullpen. Very few make a start that could play such an impact in the series. Cole will do that tomorrow.
Links and Notes
Game One Coverage