The Pittsburgh Pirates had a chance to load up on plenty of relievers for the one game Wild Card matchup. Instead, they went the opposite route. Based on comments by Clint Hurdle today, the team will carry 16 position players and nine pitchers. The pitchers include Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and the seven regular relievers from the 2013 season.
With the exception of Cole, the Pirates are managing this game just like any other game, from a pitching standpoint. Even with Cole, it’s the same, since a starter from a different day could come in and pitch in extra innings during the regular season. This is putting a lot of confidence in Liriano. There’s not much of a backup plan if he struggles. Gerrit Cole could step in, but that leaves the Pirates in trouble if the game goes deep into extra innings. These two teams play a lot of close games, so a guy who could pitch in extras is important.
The Pirates are showing a lot of confidence in Liriano, but they should. He’s their ace. He is also dominant at home. There were 107 pitchers with 70+ innings pitched at their home ballpark this year. Liriano had a 1.47 ERA at home, which ranked second overall on that list. He was one behind Jose Fernandez, and one ahead of Clayton Kershaw. Falling right behind Kershaw were Stephen Strasburg, Shelby Miller, and Matt Harvey.
That’s great company for Liriano to be in. All of those guys are aces, or future aces. Liriano has definitely pitched like an ace this year, at least at home. So the Pirates should show all of the confidence in the world in him. They’re doing that by carrying a normal pitching staff tomorrow, minus a few starting pitching options. And in the process they’re loading up on position players.
I like the fact that the Pirates are loading up on hitters. It will allow Clint Hurdle to be aggressive with some moves. If the Reds bring in a lefty, the Pirates can bring in one of their bench players who can hit lefties. If the Reds give up a leadoff hit in a close game, the Pirates can turn to a speed option off the bench to pinch run. If the Pirates are up close and late, they can bring on some defensive subs, and still have a pinch hitter remaining.
If played right, the extra hitters could provide opportunities to get Francisco Liriano some runs. As we’ve seen this year, when Liriano is on his game, he doesn’t need much help from the offense. And he’s usually on his game when he’s pitching at PNC Park.
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