The dust has settled in two of the four division series, giving us the Los Angeles Dodgers on the National League side and the Boston Red Sox over in the American League as the the first clubs to punch their Championship Series tickets.
Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, and Oakland toil on, however. Or at least for another night, as is the case for half of the aforementioned squads. Tonight, either the upstart Pirates or the been-there-done-that Cardinals will emerge victorious and advance. (Note: not an entirely accurate description, but that’s the regurgitated storyline. It’s easy to forget how different these LaRussa-less and Pujols-less Cardinals are, but, it’s still the Cardinals.)
Rookie Gerrit Cole will get the start for the Pirates this evening. The first overall selection in the 2011 draft, Cole tore through the minors with a 2.84 ERA over 38 starts and exactly 200 innings in 2012 and early in 2013. This year’s line at Triple-A Indianapolis included a sparkling 2.91 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 68 innings.
After getting the call to Pittsburgh in early June, Cole seemingly pitched better as the year went on. Unlike many rookie pitchers that wear down as the season continues, Cole posted a 1.69 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 32 innings. In Game 2 of the current series, he pitched well in navigating through six innings and allowing just one run en route to a 7-1 Pirates victory.
Just like Game 2, Game 5 will be played in hostile territory. Assuming that the rookie can maintain the same poise that he showed earlier in the series, there is no reason to think that he can’t give them every chance to win the series. He’ll be facing veteran righthander Adam Wainwright, who posted a 2.94 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in an MLB-leading 241 2/3 innings. Not exactly a simple match-up for the Pirates, and especially not having to travel back to St. Louis for the tilt.
Of course, single game predictions in
playoff baseball are absurd, but I’ll have fun with it. Let’s say, 4-1, Cardinals win.
We can be pretty sure of one thing: Justin Verlander will be on the hill for the visitors on Thursday night. This means a return to the scene of his Game 5 shutout in Oakland in last year’s ALDS, and for the A’s, a chance at redemption.
Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin has not named a starter as of this writing, but Bartolo Colon and Sonny Gray appear to be the options that he’ll be choosing between. Either way, it will be difficult to pick against Verlander and the Tigers, especially when considering not only his success in 2012, but also the seven shutout innings that he posted at the Coliseum in Game 2 of this year’s series, including eleven strikeouts, one walk, and just four hits.
Should Melvin decide to start the rookie Gray on Thursday, he’ll be choosing a combination of the Tigers’ unfamiliarity with his pitches and approach in tandem with his impressive success going up against Verlander back in Game 2 — eight innings, four hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts.
Some may prefer Colon’s “veteran presence” in an elimination game, but give me the pitcher that has a) shown the poise to succeed in the postseason and b) can be expected to succeed based on his pitches and approach. It isn’t like the A’s caught lightning in a bottle in Game 2; they think Gray is a staple in the rotation for the future. In other words, Game 2 wasn’t a fluke, so why wouldn’t they put him out there again in Game 5?
Again, picking against Verlander is generally a fool’s game to play, but I’ll stick with my original postseason prediction and give the nod to the rookie pitcher in front of the home crowd with the season on the brink. Final score: 2-1, A’s.