It will be informative to see how Pirates manager Clint Hurdle rolls out his starting rotation against the St. Louis Cardinals in the best-of-five National League Division Series which begins tomorrow evening (5:07 p.m., TBS) at Busch Stadium.
A.J. Burnett is scheduled to open the series and will face St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. Hurdle's plans after that have not been disclosed, but they should be obvious.
Rookie Gerrit Cole, based on the way he finished the season, should start the second game, which will be played Friday in St. Louis. Cole was scheduled to start Sunday, but when the Pirates clinched home field for the wild-card game Saturday, he was scratched. He was available to pitch Tuesday if Francisco Liriano needed early help. Liriano did not.
Cole, who has not pitched since Sept. 24, was the Pirates' best starter in the final month of the season with a 1.69 ERA in five starts and 32 innings. He struck out 39 and walked 10, as he displayed the pitching skills that made him the first player taken in the 2011 draft. It makes perfect sense to start him in Game 2.
A starting tandem of Burnett and Cole puts the Pirates in good position for the first two games of the series.
When the games move back to Pittsburgh on Sunday, the choice also is obvious: Liriano. The case could be made that it's Charlie Morton's turn, but it's more important to get the best pitcher out there and at the same time keep Liriano on an every-five-day schedule. The earlier he pitches in this series, the earlier he's ready to go for his next projected start.
Morton would pitch the fourth game on Monday at PNC Park. If a fifth game is necessary, in St. Louis, Burnett would be ready.
The Pirates are rolling, having won four in a row and six of seven. But they face a significant challenge in St. Louis.
The Cardinals, as their best record in the National League indicates, are a strong team.How strong? They lost first baseman, Allen Craig, probably for the season, on Sept. 4. Craig was batting .315, led the team in RBIs with 97 and had an astonishing .454 average with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals went 17-6 without him.
The Cardinals also have a strong starting rotation with Lance Lynn scheduled to pitch the second game. The starters for Game 3 and 4 will come from this trio of young pitchers: Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha.
It promises to be hotly competitive October baseball. St. Louis is the understandable favorite. The Pirates are competitive with every team and have a chance to win.