Pittsburgh Pirates: Possible playoff rotation

Francisco Liriano (Courtesy DAVID DENOMA/REUTERS)

Francisco Liriano (Courtesy DAVID DENOMA/REUTERS)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been carried most of the season by their pitching, especially the starting rotation. The majority of their starters have performed well this year. Even injuries could not bring down the rotation thanks to the depth options. With the end of the season approaching, the Pirates have their best starters going forward.

Pittsburgh is almost guaranteed a playoff spot, but the question remaining is where they will end up. If the Pirates win the division, they will need a 3-4 man rotation for the postseason. If they make it to the Wild Card game, they will need one key starter and then three others if they advance.  That one starter may need to be a guy who can outduel a Reds pitcher that the Pirates struggle against.

Francisco Liriano should be the Pirates’ number one man. He has been the Pirates’ ace this season and has been huge in big games. On Sunday Liriano flirted with a no-hitter while dominating the Chicago Cubs. Not to mention Liriano has been the stopper many times this season. Liriano has a 2.92 ERA with 144 strikeouts.

A.J. Burnett would likely be the second best starter. He has struggled some since August with a 5.75 ERA over seven starts.

Most of Burnett’s struggles come in one big inning. On August 10th, he gave up one run in the first five innings, and then surrendering five runs in the sixth. That outing was followed by what started as a dominating outing through the first four innings before Burnett gave up five runs on six hits in the fifth inning.

Burnett did not have his stuff on Sept 6th. He gave up two runs in the first and three in the third, which ended his day. In his last outing, he threw five shutout innings. In the sixth, Burnett gave up two runs due to back-to-back walks. Three hits in the seventh inning led to three runs being scored, two scoring off Jeanmar Gomez.

In almost every start, Burnett has had an inning that has spiraled out of control. In some games, Burnett can be almost unhittable. Burnett has great stuff when he is on, but the Pirates need to reel him in when things start spiraling out of control.

Charlie Morton has been one of the best starters in the second half. He is really starting to live up to his potential. He recently suffered a minor foot injury in a start where he didn’t fare well. In the six previous starts, Morton had a 1.74 ERA. In his last outing against the Cubs on Friday, Morton gave up three runs on two homers. His weakness is left-handed batters, but in a primarily left-handed lineup Morton did okay.

Then there’s Gerrit Cole, who was the pitcher that won games 81 and 82. Cole has been slowly improving over the second half. He dominated the Cubs on Saturday night in a pitcher’s duel. The rookie right-hander hurled seven innings of five hit baseball. and he struck out seven while improving t0 8-7.

The problem with Cole is innings. He has already topped his the 132 inning mark, which he threw last year. It is not a guarantee that Cole will have his best stuff after being worked so much.

Finally, there is Jeff Locke. After a dominating first half, Locke has struggled tremendously after the All-Star game. He has had a lot of control issues. In Thursday’s  start, Locke walked only one batter and appeared to show signs of the pitcher that was the Pirates ace the first half of the season.

If Locke can finish the season strong, he may beat out Cole for the fourth spot in the rotation, but one good start cannot be the determining factor. Cole does not appear to show any signs of regression.

Overall, Pittsburgh has options for the postseason.  If all five of these starters can bring their best game, the Pirates have a good chance of bringing home silver to the “Steel City” for the first time since 1979.