This has been a crazy season. The Pittsburgh Pirates had a horrible month of April, went back and forth all summer between being borderline contenders and borderline out of the race, lost a lot of key players for various stretches, had a horrible record against everyone in their division except the Cubs, and now we enter the final day of the season and they still have a shot at winning the division.
The Pirates and Cardinals both lost today, which maintains the one game lead that St. Louis has in the Central. Pittsburgh plays tomorrow at 1:10. The Cardinals play at 4:10. By the time the Cardinals game rolls around, we will know whether the Pirates have a shot at the division, or whether they will be relegated to the Wild Card game. If the Pirates win and the Cardinals lose tomorrow, then the two teams would square off in St. Louis on Monday to decide the division.
Obviously it’s better to have a shot at the division than just settling for a Wild Card spot. If you lose that one game playoff on Monday, then you still have another one game playoff to allow you to get to the NLDS. The question is, who should start the next two games?
Any suggestion saying Gerrit Cole should be held back until Monday is basically the same as a manager holding back the closer for a potential save situation in extra innings, and letting a lesser reliever pitch first. Yeah, the best reliever will be available for the save, but you might not even have a save opportunity if the weaker reliever doesn’t come through. We don’t know what will happen with St. Louis tomorrow. What we do know is that the Cardinals game becomes irrelevant if the Pirates don’t win tomorrow. Cole gives them the best chance to win. As of this writing, Cole is listed as the starter.
If the Pirates do face a tiebreaker for the division, and if Cole pitches tomorrow, then the two options would be:
Edinson Volquez – Would be pitching on four days rest, but has been strong lately, and has a 3.16 ERA in 31.1 innings against the Cardinals this year.
Jeff Locke – Would be pitching on normal rest, but has struggled in the second half, and hasn’t been good against St. Louis this year.
It’s basically a choice of a better pitcher on short rest, or a struggling pitcher on full rest. That’s not really a choice at all. Volquez should be the guy in a one game playoff for the division. If he loses, you’ve got your best starter, Francisco Liriano, available on Wednesday.
Of course, that does add another wrinkle. There were indications that Liriano wasn’t himself in his last outing, which might raise questions about his availability and effectiveness on Wednesday. If he’s not effective, or can’t go, then the Pirates are turning to Vance Worley and/or Jeff Locke in the Wild Card game, assuming they went with Cole and Volquez on Sunday and Monday.
The situation will become more clear tomorrow, whether that’s around 4:00 when the Pirates game is wrapping up, or around 7 when the Cardinals game is finishing. Cole should start tomorrow to keep the Pirates alive, and if they force the playoff, it should be Volquez trying to win the division.
Here are the current playoff seeds if the season would end today. The winner of the Wild Card game would go on to play the Washington Nationals, who clinched home field advantage today.
2. Los Angeles
3. St. Louis
5. San Francisco