Pirates Look Like They Have One of the Best NL Playoff Rotations

PITTSBURGH — Despite last night’s disappointing loss, J.A. Happ’s performance continued to signify that the Pirates’ rotation is in a good place. It wasn’t long ago that there were legitimate questions about that starting rotation heading down the stretch.

There were questions whether Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano were starting to wear down as their inning totals climbed to personal uncharted levels. There were even bigger questions as to who would slide into the third and fourth spots of the rotation, as A.J. Burnett was on the DL and Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton and newly acquired Happ continued their inconsistent pitching.

Fast-forwarding to the present, these questions have all definitively been answered. The Pirates staff has the fifth best ERA (3.64) in baseball and are tops in the league in FIP (2.97) during the month of September.

Cole and Liriano have returned to top form. Over their last two starts respectively, Cole has a 2.54 ERA in 14 innings while striking out 17 batters, and Liriano has a 1.23 ERA in his last 14.2 innings while striking out 18 batters.

Happ continued his remarkable renaissance last night, lowering his ERA to 2.04 since joining the Pirates. He has comfortably etched his name into the playoff rotation.

The final question was Burnett, who continues to improve with each start since returning from the disabled list. In his last start against Chicago, Burnett made it through six innings for the first time since his DL stint, and remained sharp as his pitch count reached 100.

The Pirates have the pieces necessary to make a deep playoff run – they have their ace in Cole, a great pitcher in Liriano who can pitch at an ace-like level, and two additional dependable starters that can provide them with quality innings and keep the team in the game. Of course, they would need Cole to step up and allow them to get past Jake Arrieta and the Cubs in order to make such a run.

This is not the norm with the National League playoff teams. Besides the Mets, the other clubs all have question marks. The Dodgers have Greinke and Kershaw, but are struggling to find dependable third and fourth starters. It’s a similar story for the Cubs, who have Arrieta and Lester, followed by inconsistency. The Cardinals have recently lost RHP Carlos Martinez for the season, and will have to pitch Lance Lynn in their likely trip to the division series – Lynn has struggled against both the Pirates and Cubs.


If the Pirates do end up facing the Cardinals in the NLDS, they will have some favorable match-ups on their side. Liriano has a 2.60 ERA in 69.2 total innings since 2012 against St. Louis, while Happ has pitched 13 scoreless innings against them this season. Cole has also had success in his short career against the Cardinals – a 2.96 ERA in 45.2 total innings.

Getting to the NLDS will be difficult, since the Pirates have to go through the best pitcher in the NL playoffs to get there. But if the Pirates reach that point, their rotation is set up to do some damage against the Cardinals and other NL playoff teams in October.

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I think they’ll either lose the WC or win it all. Really like the depth of the staff; we just need a deep enough run to take advantage of that depth.


I agree with the article, as far as our top 4 starters – but, it is all irrelevant if we can’t beat Arrieta. Arrieta has been so dominant, you have to believe that he cannot continue to pitch at this level forever – he is due for a subpar performance. Lets hope it is next Wednesday when the bright lights go on.

IMO, the wild card playoff should be expanded to a best of 3 – that way both teams get at least one home game – and I’ve felt this way for the past 2-3 years, not just this year.


I think most would agree the one game wild card is dumb but the season is already almost running into November with the current playoffs. The only way to fit in more playoff games would be to cut regular season games and we all know the owners will never give up those gates.

Bruce Humbert

Nothing will happen unless the MVP gets out of his funk – and soon…


Anyone notice that Starling Marte decided to stop striking out in the second half? What a strange season.

But yeah, baseball isn’t typically a sport that can be dominated by one star player, but in a single game elimination that changes. Pirates need their two stars to show up, Cole and Cutch.


At the risk of bringing down the wrath of the Pitts. media gods, I would second that Bruce. As far as I ( and Fangraphs ) can see, the best player on this team the last month or so has been Cole….and it’s not even close.


Arrieta has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. But as in any sport, anything can happen. Streaks end. That’s why you play the game. Bottom line is that I am a Pirate fan. And I will be rooting them on. They were underdogs in 1971 when they faced four 20 game winners and they won. So LET’S GO BUCS!

Brian T

OT Dejan Kovacevic is grinding his ax, yet again. Saying that Pittsburgh & it’s baseball fans failed to show up for a huge game in a division race, because of the 7K no shows for last nights game. He also implied that the city has not embraced the Pirates, or this team , as many would have us believe???
WTF I am so tired of this crap. We get it. Steelers & Pens fans Great. Pirates fans Bad!
Stop beating the drum media!
I am a fan of all of our teams in this city. I don’t understand why others can’t be as well???
Flat out, No Shows at sporting events will happen in every city, for every sporting event.
Even the mighty Steelers, Yankees, Red Sox & Cardinals have no shows. Even during those teams best yrs.
Please get off of this Pittsburgh media. The city does indeed LOVE the Pirates.

Bruce Humbert

Well DK can be – and is – often and idiot on this stuff…

I had season tickets for several year.
I went to the Cueto game and chanted.
i waited until the BMTIB decided to put the cash away and not play with the big boys.
Read the series in the Washington paper on the Nationals. Their payroll is $170M and they were the odds on favorite to make the WS from the NL going into this year. This is not “the Pirate Way” – so we will get to see a game at PNC with banners and stuff and go home losers again for 36 years.
But the lemmings will be happy – we COMPETED – we HAD A CHANCE…
– and they will line up next year to make Nutting a bit richer and take one more roll of the dice,


Best thing I’ve done in quite some time for my internet sanity was cancelling my subscription. His act was tolerable when he was actually paying attention to Major League Baseball and had decent information about the team. Now, it’s nothing but surface-deep hot takes, one after another. Really showed his stripes when he first hired John Perrotto earlier this year before that flopped after about a week.

Remember when DK kept preaching about how Huntington was angering the baseball gods by not carrying Tony Sanchez and John Holdzkom past Spring Training? That was fun.


IMO, DK and his crew do continue to get better interviews with players, coaches, FO than the competition. I think that’s not even arguable. How he interprets those interviews, however, is certainly subject to questioning.


Sure, I can agree with that, although it would be purely out of respect for DK as I can’t honestly tell you the last time I read an interview from either of the major papers.

I agree with Luke here. He’s turned his operation into an entertainment machine. The casual fan doesn’t care about anyone actually being correct anymore, they want to be entertained. I don’t have anything against that, and frankly could probably use some of that myself, but it’s just not what I value for my money.

Opinions are great, but they’re also worthless if not backed by fact and a track record of actually knowing what you’re talking about.


Not to defend DK, but that’s the challenge and danger of going to a subscription model. You have to provide content people are willing to pay for, and that often means some amount of pandering to specific niche to get those 3-year subscriptions which allow the hiring of more staff. My wife and I have spoken to DK several times on this subject, to the point where he calls us “the money couple” as we’re more interested in how he plans on making his site a sustainable model than what he actually says.

You can even see some of the challenges in the comments on this thread. You yourself say you limit your Bucs subscriptions and reading to this site. But if Tim stopped covering the Pirates as Bruce suggests, you’d be an unhappy camper (as would I). So how does Tim satisfy both us and Bruce?

DK certainly does throw a lot of red meat to his constituents.But is that any different than what FOX or MSNBC does? It’s hard to make money being in the middle. The public likes ongoing narratives and hanging with others who share those narratives. So once you and I stop considering it serious journalism and start considering it as opinion, then the model and the content becomes legit, even if we don’t like it.

Also keep in mind that the “Howard Stern” model is successful if you can pull it off. People who hate him continue to tune in to hear more stuff they don’t like in order to validate their hate.


Nah, defend away. He’s certainly deserving. I can remember complaining back to when he started doing radio spots that his focus wasn’t going to be good ole solid journalism anymore, and that’s exactly what has happened. He’s done what needed to be done, and has been unquestionably successful at it; but there’s a reason I don’t watch FOX/MSNBC, and it’s pretty close to the same one that drove me from DK’s product.

FWIW, I subscribe to BA, BP, FanGraphs, and Tim’s site (plus the local paper). Very much willing to pay for good content, and also realize I’m not the guy Dejan is targeting with his approach.

Luke S

He’s a good writer in a technical sense (great, id say) and does have good access to players and runs a good interview.

He’s literally within inches of being a great media option for the city, but he ruins it purely because he seems to dislike the team/FO and cant help from taking what could be a start to in depth stuff and make it all about some really random surface level crap.

He seems to refuse to go in depth at all anymore, and runs with narratives like Hoka Hey and every trade deadline sucks because he doesnt like anyone not big name. Lotta talent wrapped up in useless coverage.


DK : jack of all sports writing trades, Master of none. The penultimate band wagon jumper. But I saved myself the time and money by never subscribing. I figured that kind of crap would be coming sooner, if not later.

Bruce Humbert

Wrong – he is the master of the irrelevant Riverhounds!


I give the guy a ton of credit for making something out of this endeavor, I do. But he very, very clearly is catering to the generic Pittsburgh sports fan and that’s just not something a guy like me who prefers one sports over the others really should be paying money for.

I can get the six o’clock news version of Pirate happenings anywhere.


We certainly don’t think much of DK over at the PBC Asylum. He WAS good when he was the beat writer, but it’s been downhill for him ever since ‘Hoka Hey’ 🙂

Bruce Humbert

But PBC Asylum is a great site – I don’t spend a lot of time there – but you guys cover the MLB team fully and well…

DK and I have had a falling out over Pedro – he has some axe to grind with the Bull that keeps him from being objective – and he tolerates a lot of crap that should never get posted.

But some of his hires are better than he is – a lot less strident.

Blaine Huff

Gave up on him about this time. Seems he just wants to be mad about something…anything.

Did he ever make amends for this: “You know … I want to stop writing about the Pirates’ stupidity. I’ve actually made a concerted effort, in all honesty. No columns in five weeks. Occasional rant on $17 million, .211-hitting catchers and non-tenders and the like. Nothing more.”

Astute baseball wisdom there, non-tendering Jeff Karstens and signing Russell Martin will continue to haunt this club for ages.


I don’t think DK has been good since he did the PBC Blog with the Post Gazette a half decade ago. That’s where I always went to get minor league info.


He’s like Joe Maddon. In the past he showed that he was very good at his trade, but he’s become so full of himself that he’s mostly unbearable.


Cubs : 3 earned runs in 20.2 innings against Pirates starters during the series last weekend.

michael t

monsoon in Pittsburgh now and predicted all evening ……when are they going to call this game…and what will be the plan?

Mark S

Just read on Trib….game tonite called…looks like doubleheader tomorrow. Cards have 10:30 am bus scheduled for ballpark.


So when is the name of the site getting changed to jakearrietaprospects.com?? Very annoying coming to a Pirates content site and reading about how we can’t beat this guy over and over again.

Tim Williams

This is an article about how the Pirates shape up to have one of the best rotations in the post-season if they make it past Arrieta.

If you’re complaining about the Arrieta disclaimer, then I’ll point out that even with that disclaimer, we’ve gotten a lot of comments about how this won’t matter if they can’t beat Arrieta (which, again, is already a disclaimer throughout this article).

We have never once said they can’t beat Arrieta. In fact, I wrote two articles this weekend showing how it could be possible to beat him, and what they need to do to make that happen. I would think that approach is much more optimistic than most views on him. And in this article, we looked beyond the Wild Card game to point out that they line up well in the playoffs. Once again, not assuming they’re losing to Arrieta.

Bruce Humbert

I just think you are missing one the need to focus this site on Prospects.

So I am not the editor – but if I was I would have asked for two articles…

1. Why beating Jake and the Cubs is a really good thing for Pirate prospects.

2. Why beating Jake and the Cubs is a really bad thing for the Pirate prospects.

There os a logic that flow from each of these scenarios – very different in terms of who stays and who goes and the opportunities that are out there for the young guys looking to advance and get to the show.


Slow time of year for prospects. Plus, Jake IS the guy we’re facing in a week, so I ‘get’ all the coverage by Tim.

Bruce Humbert

I am not a happy subscriber – I want GREAT prospect coverage from this site – that is the sweet spot and what I pay for – Tim and John know a lot more about the prospects and the farm system than I ever will.

But I don’t need to pay to read their opinions on the Pirates – there is another site that does a good job and is focused on the Bucs. There are free sites that focus on the Bucs too…

Unless you are going to put a quality full time correspondent with the team for every game you are not going to complete effectively.

Bruce Humbert

Thanks to Tim for a very thorough and thoughtful response.

I wanted to take some time to think about what to say next on this topic and not just “fly off the the handle.”

And in reflection, I think my initial post was driven by my reaction to this specific post. I am not sure it is up to the standards that Tim and John have set and after reading it for the third time i have just one word to say…


The data is out there – it is not hard to find – so the first sin of the article/post is stating the obvious.

The second – and perhaps biggest sin is it avoids dealing with the simple truth that having the best rotation in the playoffs really means little if a team [say last years Giants] has an ace – a truly dominant hot pitcher like Mad Bum the other pieces can – and don’t really matter much.

The third – and maybe it’s unfair – but it is still a ‘sin’ IMHO is I go to Fangraphs and find a fascinating – data rich – well thought out and argued post on why for the Pirates it all comes down to how well can Gerrit Cole pitch in his one game challenge match with Arrieta.

I remain concerned that spending resources on Pirate coverage – and not being able to do it at a level that makes it valuable and useful is not the best use of PP resources. I still have not seen any real updates on the injured folks – is Lambo done – finished – doing any kind of rehab. What is going on with Kingham – what about Tailon? I know you gave us a list of who is going to AZ and the fall instructs rosters and schedule.

Maybe this is a time for you to take a break and let the season play out – unless and until you can put a beat reporter in place with the ML team.

Tim Williams

“The data is out there – it is not hard to find – so the first sin of the article/post is stating the obvious.”

Being totally honest about this article, it was originally part of Pete’s game story on Monday, following up J.A. Happ’s start and the fact that the Pirates suddenly have a really strong rotation. I decided to separate it, expand it a bit with a graphic, and go with a solo article.

It was never meant to be groundbreaking or deep in depth analysis, but was meant to point out a simple trend. And based on the response to this, it’s something that people appreciate seeing. These types of articles aren’t going to have info you can’t get elsewhere, but they always generate discussion and interest. And you need that in order to generate the articles that do have info you can’t get elsewhere.

As for the FanGraphs/Cole article, I talked about that subject last Friday.

“I remain concerned that spending resources on Pirate coverage – and not being able to do it at a level that makes it valuable and useful is not the best use of PP resources. I still have not seen any real updates on the injured folks – is Lambo done – finished – doing any kind of rehab. What is going on with Kingham – what about Tailon? I know you gave us a list of who is going to AZ and the fall instructs rosters and schedule.”

I would disagree with you on the valuable and useful aspect. As I noted before, we’ve had some strong Pirates analysis over the years, and that extends to this year. Pete’s article on Polanco this year was one of the best I’ve seen from any outlet. We were reporting what changes the Pirates were working on with Happ back when no one wanted him to make his second start or any start beyond that.

As for the injuries you mentioned, there aren’t any real updates to be posted. Taillon is throwing now, but he won’t be back this year, and I’ve mentioned many times that he’ll be ready to start the year in Indianapolis next season, with a chance to be up mid-season. Lambo is out for the year, and I don’t know if he’d even survive the off-season roster crunch. Kingham had Tommy John, so he’s out for all of 2016, and won’t even do meaningful throwing until the end of Spring Training.

All of my instructs reports are just small bits of information that will either be paired with the season ending summaries, or will go in one big notes article.

As for the break, we’ve never done that. I’ll be with the MLB club the rest of the year starting Friday. We’ve had coverage of almost every game this month, except for a few road games. We don’t have a specific “beat writer”, but I like the current approach of getting multiple perspectives. And as I’ve noted before, this kind of coverage leads to more subscriptions, which allows the site to cover more of what you’re looking for.

In a way, it’s almost like an actor agreeing to do a blockbuster franchise movie, knowing that he needs to do that in order to be able to do the small indy projects he really wants to do. In this case, the Pirates coverage is the franchise movie geared toward a mass audience, and the minor league coverage is the indy work that is much more in depth and higher quality, meant for a specific target.

Tim Williams

I’ve got a few questions and comments about your post.

1. Are you saying we didn’t have GREAT prospect coverage this year? Or do you still want that now, at a time when there are no minor league games, and only glorified practices at Pirate City, all while the MLB team is playing their most important baseball? Because this is always a slow period for minor league coverage.

2. We are currently working on our top ten lists for the rest of the minor league affiliates. We put a lot of effort into these to make sure they are great. That even extends to debating whether Harold Ramirez or Reese McGuire was the better prospect, and breaking down the values of each player. Basically, we spent a whole day arguing that one point for that one team’s prospect list, all to decide who would be our number two and number three prospect. There’s some behind the scenes work for prospect coverage at this time of year, which leads to these season recaps, and ultimately, the Prospect Guide, which we’re already working on.

3. You say you don’t need to pay for opinions on the Pirates, and mention other sites that provide that. I don’t know what the sites are, but I also don’t care. We are going to provide coverage on the Pirates. We cover all of these guys all throughout the minors. Take Tyler Glasnow, for example. I’ve been singing his praises since he was first drafted, and we were the first site to report on him breaking out with top of the rotation stuff. We’ve followed him closely for the last three seasons since then, and will follow him closely next year until he’s in the majors. And we’re not stopping there just to hand the coverage off to other sites.

We’re around 4,000 subscriptions now and growing. A lot of those people also want MLB coverage, especially when the team is doing so well. So we provide that. It’s impossible to make this site fully customizable for everyone, to the point where we only provide what you want, and never give you things you’re not interested in. The goal is that we can provide enough variety that we’re going to have content for a large amount of people. Every single person will have articles they don’t care about.

4. As for competing effectively, I’d disagree with this. We’ve always provided an opinion on the Pirates that has been different than most outlets. And in most cases, this has been well ahead of the curve. When everyone felt Russell Martin was a wasted signing, we pointed out things like pitch framing that were undervalued at the time. We’ve been pointing out the Ray Searage impact since the time when people questioned every single pitching addition the team made. We covered the defensive shifts in detail before anyone else, which led to a writer on this site receiving a SABR award for his coverage at the MLB level. And to give an example of this year, I wrote about how the trade deadline was “potentially brilliant”, at a time when most were writing it off as moves that wouldn’t help the team.

And I would like to put a full time person with the team. That’s a goal that we will achieve one day. But right now, we’ve got a great mix where we give great prospect coverage AND great MLB coverage.

I’m always open to suggestions on what you’d like to see. But I never take suggestions on things you don’t want to see, because everything we provide on this site is content that a lot of our paying customers like to see. If we were to remove every article that some people didn’t like, we’d have nothing. On the flip side, there are things that people want to see more of, and during some periods, it’s simply impossible to provide a ton of that content. We’re in one of those periods for minor league coverage (and yet we still have daily minor league articles).

brad c

The comment about Taillon was a joke. You do a fine job and are often ahead of the newspapers.

michael t

I believe the expanded major league coverage has been a real positive for this site and the subscribers. After all, the entire “prospect” system is designed to develop assets for the major league club…..to play or trade for other assets. It is natural for this site to evolve in such a way as to provide detailed coverage of the assets that have been successfully developed to become major league players. It is hard to imagine fan interest that terminates when a prospect leaves the minor league system. I would think the vast majority of subscribers applaud and appreciate the excellent major league coverage and support the plans for more of it.


Hmmmm….. well Bruce, seeing as the prospect season is over until arizona league starts, why don’t you just sign off until then, because there really isn’t any prospect news at this point in the season. I mean, if you would prefer Tim and his crew taking a vacation vs. actually writing articles, i’m sure they could use the time off

Tim Williams

I’d love the break.

brad c

Can’t we get an update on Jameson Taillon’s hernia and a profile about the physician who did the surgery? You are getting lazy Pirates Prospects staff.


lol…..I was considering an expose’ on Gift Ngoepe for Christmas, asking him what his favorite christmas gifts have been.

Tim Williams

I can’t tell if this is serious.

Scott K

So you want to read articles on prospect exit interviews about what they need to do this winter to get prepared for next year more than articles on upcoming Pirates postseason?

Pat F

You seem offended by their opinion on the Pirates, I’m not sure why. Sure, prospects are their bread and butter, but you seem to suggest that they should disregard the Pirates at the major league level. Also, providing coverage of the mlb team does not mean they aren’t providing GREAT coverage of prospects. The minor league season is over so their resources are much better spent on covering the mlb team…….that is, unless you are interested in what Austin Meadows might be having for dinner tonight.


When he’s on, I mean if all 4 throw their A Game, gimme Frankie. The slider can be nasty some days.

One of the things I’ve liked about the rotation last few years is that it’s a nice mix of righties and lefties, arm angles, power and pitching to the defense.
Hell of a lot better than throwing Duke, Gorzelanny, and Maholm three days in a row.

Scott K

Love Liriano when he’s throwing the fastball for strikes, but even then Cole is still best one of the two.


NMR : for God’s sake, shhhh ! You are bound and determined to ruin the almost unanimous narrative that the Pirates have absolutely NO chance of ever beating the Cubs and Superman.


I feel like we’re all the high school kid dumped by the hot chick before prom that swears off girls forever. We’re pretty good looking, too, damnit! 😉


You swore off girls forever?



Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉


Yeah, I’m pitching Cole 10 out of 10 times. He’s the Bucs’ best pitcher. Jeff Locke had a just dominant stretch as Happ is having now 2 years ago, Happ is just having his at a much better time. Gerrit Cole is the ace and one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. It should be a no-brainer.


It *is* a no-brainer. Starting Happ would be laughable, and while I get what Arthur is saying I simply don’t think there’s near enough difference between Liriano’s best and Cole’s best to make up for the fact that Cole is the much, much safer pitcher.

Luke S

You’d also (assuming a win against CHC) get Liriano and possibly Happ against STL, and thats a great matchup scenario with the way STL hits LHP. If we throw Cole and make it beyond CHC, the entire series sets up well pitching wise for us with 2 LHP in STL, Cole and then AJ at home (where he’s just much better than on the road).

brad c

Not sure why this even matters if they can’t beat Arrieta/Cubs.


Yeah if only Tim would do an article on Arrieta/Cubs. I sure want to read more about that topic for the next week.

brad c

I don’t either. Dare I assert, the more baseball “analysts” trump him up as invincible the chances increase that he fails. Sports history is littered with teams/players who were portrayed as unbeatable only to see the “impossible” happen. Let’s start with the 1988 Dodgers, 1969 Mets who beat vastly superior teams in the series. And well before the Internet and cable there were the 1906 Cubs that won 116 games with a pitcher known as Three Fingers Brown whose ERA that year (1.04) makes Arrieta look like an amateur. Oh yes, the Cubs lost the series that year.

Geof Hileman

It doesn’t matter if they DON’T beat Arrieta and the Cubs. But they CAN beat Arrieta and the Cubs. They might not, but they can.

Let’s not crown the guy the Bumgarner of 2015 until he actually does it. Sure, he’s been pitching out of his mind, but don’t those numbers suggest some regression? (Noting his identical xFIP to Mr. Happ). It’s one game and likely to be a low-scoring game at that. We’ve got a very strong offense and a stud on the mound ourselves.

Thomas G

Strong Offense really where? This team hasn’t scored a run in what 2 1/2 games?


Well that clearly settles it.

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