Well through two games of the five game series things are even. It is now a three game series and the Pirates are playing two of those games in PNC Park and two of those three games will have Fransico Liriano and (probably) Gerrit Cole on the mound. Before the series I thought that if the Pirates were able to split in St. Louis they would have a pretty good chance of winning the series and that is exactly what they did today. A good offense combined with an outstanding start from Cole and some really awful Cardinals defense and this series is tied up and PNC Park is going to be rocking on Sunday afternoon. This is what it's all about.
This really was all about Cole. I am not really sure how I felt before the game about his start. I was actually pretty confident that he matched up well against Lance Lynn but at the same time I thought that he had struggled pretty badly in starts following long rest and this was his first playoff game. Well that was quickly put to rest as he shut down a really good Cardinals lineup for six innings where he allowed only one run on two hits with five strikeouts and a walk. He was hitting upper 90's in the sixth inning and was paining the corners for big time strikeouts. The St. Louis gun had him at 100 four or five times (I think) in the sixth inning and he was getting some good arm-side run on those pitches which made them pretty much impossible to hit. When Cole first came up he was relying on the fastball a lot but as the season has gone on he has been getting into his secondary pitches and he is showing us the legit number one ace stuff that we all thought he had. He was just filthy today and it was awesome to see in the playoffs.
The Pirates offense came alive after looking really bad against Adam Wainwright last night with seven runs on 10 hits. They didn't even have to do it all in one innings. They got two in the third, two in the fifth, and a single run in each the second, seventh, and eighth innings. Sometimes a pitcher can come unraveled for one inning and that is enough for the Pirates were all over Lynn from about the second inning and then just kept peppering the baseball. It was really great to see. Neil Walker was the only Pirates starter (including Cole) who didn't have a hit on the day and that is what an offense needs to do. Everyone in the lineup was contributing and the Pirates made the Cardinals pay for mistakes.
The Cardinals did make mistakes. In the second inning Jon Jay had a fairly awful read on a Pedro Alvarez ball that turned into a ground-rule double. Yadier Molina then failed to make a catch on a pretty routine fly ball behind home plate that gave the Pirates some extra life. With two outs the Cardinals then intentionally walked Jordy Mercer to put runners on first and second for Cole who singled up the middle for the games first run. It was great to see the Pirates make the Cardinals pay even though they could have got some more runs out of the inning as Lynn hit Starling Marte with the next pitch to load the bases before Walker grounded out to end the inning.
Alvarez is getting hot. Along with his double in the second inning he hit an absolute bomb to center in the third inning to plate two more runs and really give Cole and company some much needed breathing room. If he stays hot like he is then it could go a long way in keeping the Pirates in the playoffs past the NLDS and that my friends would be a great thing.
There has been a lot of talk over the last couple days/weeks about Justin Morneau hitting out of the four spot. The more I have thought about it I think I am more OK with that than I was. Today he was 2-for-5 with a pair of runs scored and a double and while he isn't hitting for a lot of power or driving in runs (which isn't totally in his control) he is putting together some good at bats and getting on base. Since coming over to the Pirates he has a .370 OBP and has a higher walk rate (14%) than strikeout rate (13%). I think Marlon Byrd is a better option at the four spot to give Andrew McCutchen some protection but I am not sure if you want to bat Morneau and Alvarez back-to-back or put Russell Martin ahead of Alvarez in the batting order to break up the left handed hitters. I think Morneau is doing a good enough job to keep that spot and his on base abilities are a nice plus even if he isn't hitting for a ton of power.
The big question now is if Cole gets the start in game five over A.J. Burnett if it comes to that. Obviously I hope this is a moot point and the Pirates can win two games at PNC Park but the thought of a game five shouldn't be so far fetched. I think Clint Hurdle and Burnett have a weird power struggle relationship in that Burnett can somewhat call the shots and Hurdle gives him a little more leeway than he might for anyone else. Hurdle is a veteran guy so my guess is that there might be a chance he goes with Burnett in a game five even though Burnett has just been awful against the Cardinals this season. Cole is going to be on regular rest with the off days and you can argue he has been the staff ace over the last month of the season and in the playoffs. If it is me I have Cole on the mound but if it comes to that I have no idea how Hurdle is going to process that. Wouldn't surprise me either way. I hope it doesn't come to that though.
Once again, a big time win today. The offense and pitching staff showed up and the Cardinals didn't have an answer for Cole much in the same way that the Pirates didn't have an answer for Wainwright in game one. The Pirates have their ace on the mound who has pitched very well against the Cardinals this season for game three and then Charlie Morton on the mound for game four who has not pitched well against the Cardinals. Playoff baseball is awesome and terrible all at the same time. That means it is the best. The Pirates should try this more often.