The Pittsburgh Pirates have put themselves in a great position so far during these 2013 MLB Playoffs. In essence they did what any road team in a series format like this NLDS is supposed to do – get a split on the road and take away home-field advantage.
Now the Bucs face a best-of-three series with the St. Louis Cardinals with two of the games to take place in PNC Park. Advantage Pirates? Most definitely so, thanks to the performance of one man, rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole.
Making his first postseason start, Cole mowed down a very tough Cardinals lineup with ease on Friday but also made a statement with his stellar performance. Cole basically said that if this series has to come back to Busch Stadium for a deciding Game 5, Cole wants, and should get, the ball.
As the Pirates rotation is set up right now, veteran A.J. Burnett is currently scheduled to get the ball in Game 5.
That’s simply something that can’t happen.
It’s not so much of a knock against Burnett as it is wanting to have your best pitcher on the hill in a deciding game. Right now that guy is Cole.
Burnett’s blowup in Thursday’s third inning aside, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle can’t afford to run Burnett back out there. Not if he is doing what is best for the team. If Game 5 were to be played in PNC Park, then this a different conversation altogether. But it is not and Busch Stadium has not been kind to Burnett.
So far on the season, Burnett has allowed 20 earned runs in only 15.1 innings of work throughout four starts in St. Louis. He’s flat out been pounded by the Cardinals lineup, allowing 25 hits in that span, walking nine. After a decent outing at Bush Stadium in late April, Burnett’s last three starts there have lasted four and a third, three and two innings pitched each time out.
If Burnett is on his game, I have total confidence that he can go toe-to-toe with the Cardinals lineup. But for some reason, that is a big if in St. Louis. Hurdle can’t take the chance that Burnett’s not locating his pitches in the fashion he was during Game 1.
Walks will kill you in a deciding game, which makes running Burnett out there a risk anyway.
Now Cole on the other hand is the dominant right arm that should get the call. Even though he is a rookie, his bulldog demeanor won’t let a potential deciding game be too much for him. In fact, it’s something that Cole will likely thrive on.
Friday was the first time that Cardinals hitters got a look at Cole, compared to being very familiar with Burnett. They would likely be more comfortable against him the second time around, but when you are throwing 100 mph in the sixth inning, sometimes familiarity doesn’t mean a thing.
Finally, it’s a simple as giving the ball to your best pitcher when you need a win the most. Since the beginning of September, Cole hasn’t just been one of the best pitchers in a Pirates’ uniform, he’s been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
His last five starts in September produced a 4-0 record and a stellar 1.69 ERA. He allowed only six runs in his last 32 innings pitched during the regular season, allowing only 24 hits in the process while striking out 39.
Many wondered how Cole would handle his first postseason start. All he did was throw six innings of two-hit ball, allowing only one run and punching out five.
The bottom line is that both Cole and Burnett will be on normal rest by the time a potential Game 5 rolls around and tabbing Cole the starter is a no-brainer. The kid has earned it and has the chance to be as dominant as potential Cardinals’ Game 5 starter Adam Wainwright.
The likes of Hurdle, pitching coach Ray Searage and general manager Neal Huntington have a decision to make if this series heads back to St. Louis. On one hand you don’t want to upset a veteran like Burnett that has meant so much to the Pirates’ turnaround. On the other hand, this shouldn’t be a difficult decision at all.
I’m sure behind closed doors that decision has already been made and it will be shocking if Cole isn’t the guy.
However, there’s one way to get around having to make such a decision like this that could upset Burnett: Take care of business at home and make sure this series doesn’t get back to St. Louis.