So the Pittsburgh Pirates have done it.
They’ve split the series at St. Louis and arrive home with a chance to win the series by Game 4. My earlier predictions about who will win (A.J. Burnett) and who would lose (Gerrit Cole) was based around experience compared to how each pitcher has fared against the current foe and leading up to their appearance. In fact, it was the other way around.
The first game saw A.J. struggle from the start, with no control over his breaking pitches and having trouble locating the fastball. He made it through the first couple of innings on pure stuff alone, but the third inning arrived and Burnett was gone before it ended.
A lot of people will argue that manager Clint Hurdle should have taken Burnett out much sooner, however the Pirates were struggling against Adam Wainwright and it looked as though Hurdle was trying to keep his bullpen as fresh as possible.
The second game saw Cole dominate from the start, locating his fastball and showing off his new-found favor for the curveball and other off-speed pitches. There was maybe twice in the entire game where Cole may have gotten into a little bit of trouble, but he quickly knocked the Cardinals back down and pitched an absolute gem.
On the flip side of the ball, the Pirates’ offense in the first game looked completely over-matched but was fantastic in both long ball and small to score seven runs and give themselves confidence they can hang with the team that posted the best record in the National League.
Coming back home to Pittsburgh, the Pirates will bring out Francisco Liriano vs. Joe Kelly and the fans will be back in their loud-and-proud frenzy of a blackout. Liriano has been fantastic at home; we saw it on Tuesday against the Reds and we expect to see it again on Sunday. Kelly has been very good for St. Louis this season and especially tough against the Pirates.
This game should be determined by which offense can put up the most damage as possible against the others. As is the case in most games with dominant-type pitchers, if you can get to them early, generally you will win. Look for the Bucs to pull out a low-scoring type of game with a clutch hit or two.
Monday, the Pirates will host Game 4 and I’ve been asking around to fellow Pirates fans, some other baseball fans and even a couple of the experts out there and I have very mixed results for the following. I believe that Burnett should start Game 4 against the Cardinals and not the scheduled Charlie Morton.
The reasoning for this is simple: A.J. pitches much better at home than on the road, and he will also have a chip on his shoulder about how badly he pitched on Thursday. Burnett pitching Game 4 would leave Cole to pitch in the deciding Game 5 (if needed) and it also sets up a potential NLCS rotation of Liriano, Burnett, Cole and Morton.
It also keeps Morton for long relief in the event Burnett or Cole doesn’t pitch deep into either game. If Burnett is on as I would expect, the Pirates can win against the rookie Michael Wacha.
If the Pirates do falter against the Cardinals in either of the next two games, the deciding Game 5 would go back to St. Louis and would pit Cole vs. Adam Wainwright and both teams seemingly would have their work cut out for them. A game designed to allow anything to happen could be nearly impossible to predict, except the Pirates have proven this season they can win when their backs are against the wall.
The Pirates players are once again calling for a “blackout” for Game 3 and the fans need to show up again, just as they did on Tuesday. While the black sea of clothing won’t be as effective in the daytime hours, it’s the show of unity, being loud and crazy, chanting and taunting the young pitchers that should give the Buccos a clear edge to not only smell blood in the water but fully release the Shark Tank to close out the series in Game 4.
If it goes to Game 5, all bets are off and may the best team win.