Gerrit Cole's start start tomorrow could define the rest of the series. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Gerrit Cole’s start tomorrow could define the rest of the series. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

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

**Nothing Goes Right For the Pirates As They Drop Game One 9-1

**Why Did Clint Hurdle Delay Pulling A.J. Burnett?

**What Led to A.J. Burnett’s Seven-Run Inning?

Series Analysis

**Bullpen Wars: Why Pirates-Cardinals Could Be Decided in Relief

**Pirates Being Favored Over Cardinals in Stat Friendly Previews

**MLB Announces Start Time For Sunday’s Game

**Pirates Release NLDS Roster

**Cardinals Set Their NLDS Roster — No Allen Craig

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  1. Cole relished these moments in the month of September. He was essentially the staff stopper – regardless of where he was pitching (home or away) or who he was matched against (Darvish). 3 of his final four starts followed Pirate losses, and he was brilliant every time. The thing I loved about him most was his demeanor in these situations. Not trying to make this comparison to say he is as good as this guy, but he almost had that Roger Clemens like mound presence. Laser focus, but with a lot of “edge” to him. Playoffs are a different animal, for sure, but I like his chances today.

    • I agree. He has the confidence to not allow the atmosphere or the situation affect his effort. Sure it was a blowout, but it was just one game. I felt all along Game 2 was the key to this series. If the Pirates lose, their chances of winning 3 straight are very slim. However, if they win today, as Tim said, Game 3 matchup favors them. If Cole has a dominating performance today, I think you have to pitch him in Game 5 (if there is a Game 5). If so, do you then start Morton or AJ in Game 4?

  2. I like Bucs chances today. Not worried about Cole and Bucs can hit Lynn.

    If Clint was a slave to stats, the rotation would’ve been Cole, Morton, Liriano, AJ, Cole to favor road/home splits. Among those with six road starts, Cole is their best away pitcher (now that Locke has eliminated himself).

    If you step down to four away starts, guess who’s even better: Jeanmar.

    Wainwright is among the best home pitchers this year. Not as good as Liriano, but up there. And here’s the bad news: the best road pitcher in all MLB is Joe Kelly. Maybe not good enough to offset Liriano at PNC, but maybe good enough to beat Morton on Monday. If I’m Metheny, I’d be considering Wacha to go Sunday. Bucs haven’t hit him at all (SSS) but it allows Cards to use Kelly to their best advantage.

    I doubt Metheny uses Miller this series as Bucs have killed him almost as bad as Cards have beat up on AJ. So if it comes to game five, it’ll be Waino at Busch again. Bucs have five days to learn how to hit a curveball.

    • I would be careful using splits in that way, when the overall data tells you something, mainly Joe Kelly in his current form is not a very good pitcher. He outperforms his fielding independent metrics by some 2 runs. I would proceed with caution when looking at a subset of that data, because by its nature it become less reliable.

      Its great at telling what happen, not so much for predictive purposes.

      • Andrew,
        Joe Kelly is the opposite of Jeff Locke. Slow start, got better. There’s no regression coming. He’s stuck with bad xFIP numbers from April/May. The guy is producing weak contact the past four months, similar to Morton. If Bucs are going to beat him, it’s with seeing eye grounders.

        • I am going to have to disagree, I am looking at FIP versus ERA, from when Kelly was starting, still huge gap. He strikes out 4.7/9, walks 3.5/9. (Only NL starter with worse K/9 is Jake Westbrook.) Kelly has a LOB% of 82%, he does not strike out enough batter to justify this. He has a BABIP of .271, which is some 20 points below league average and he if generates an extreme groundball percentage that BABIP is likely to be higher than league average.

          The only reason Joe Kelly will not regress is because there will be no more data points, the season will end. His current performance is not sustainable. Again, and most importantly given the circumstance, it is not definitely helpful for predicting one game, but I like the match-up for the Pirates.

  3. Playoff pressure exits either way, but I think it may benefit the Pirates a little bit here that the game is at 1 in the afternoon. It will still be tough for a rookie, or anyone really, to pitch on the road, but at least Cole does not have all day to think about it like he would if it was a night game.

  4. Hurdle should be thinking about the entire series, but I don’t think Cole will be looking at this as the key game. He just has a game to do – even if the team was already down 2-0, his job would be to keep Cards off the base and keep them from scoring. His job has nothing to do with “saving” the season or the series, or being some kind of savior. He just needs to approach this game just like he has the last several, and go after the hitters one at a time. If he can hold them to 2 runs over 6 innings, we probably have a good shot at grabbing a road playoff win.

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