Gerrit Cole leads the league in wins this season. (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
The aces from two of the National League’s best rotations pitched Sunday. Gerrit Cole won his major-league best 14th game for the Pirates and Dodger Zach Greinke saw his consecutive scoreless streak stopped at 45⅔ innings in a well-pitched, hard-luck no-decision.
The Dodgers have the best front two, front three and front four among NL rotations with Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Bolsinger and Brett Anderson. The latter two aren’t aces but they’ve been solid enough with Greinke and Kershaw at the top. We’re stopping at four-man rather than five-man rotations because at playoff time that fifth guy won’t matter much.
What team is second to the Dodgers? The Pirates? The Cardinals? The Nationals? How ’bout those Mets? Those first three teams ought to make the playoffs and Mets also have a shot.
It says here the second-best front two belongs to the Nationals. The Pirates have a strong argument for the best front three, but it’s very close with the others, particularly because baseball is like Wall Street: Past returns don’t guarantee continued success. Going beyond three pitchers, St. Louis has the deepest rotation by far.
Let’s take a look at the stats through Sunday. The two columns on the far right are Fielding Independent Pitching, which is based on outcomes that are in the pitcher’s hands: strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs; and Adjusted ERA, which adjusts for the ballparks the man has pitched in. (The average pitcher is at 100, and anything above 100 is above average.) All tabulations come from baseball-reference.com, with league leading stats in bold.
Dodgers W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Zach Greinke 9-2 138.1 91 21 24 120 1.37 2.62 268
Clay Kershaw 8-6 140 105 39 27 185 2.51 2.11 146
M. Bolsinger 5-3 84 71 26 28 75 2.79 2.78 132
B. Anderson 3-3 110.2 117 41 30 79 3.33 3.56 110
Pirates W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Gerrit Cole 14-4 132.1 115 33 28 130 2.24 2.70 165
AJ Burnett 8-4 131 135 39 34 110 2.68 2.94 138
F. Liriano 6-6 120.2 82 39 42 136 2.91 2.98 127
C. Morton 6-4 64.2 64 33 20 36 4.59 4.57 81
The Pirates might have the biggest dropoff after their front three, but the Nationals and Mets should have concerns there, too.
Cardinals W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
C. Martinez 11-4 119.1 99 31 48 121 2.34 3.41 160
John Lackey 9-5 131.1 130 39 32 94 2.88 3.45 130
Lance Lynn 7-5 109.1 100 34 34 119 2.80 2.68 133
*Jaime Garcia 3-3 48 35 9 7 32 1.69 2.98 222
Mike Wacha 11-4 118.1 103 43 29 99 3.27 3.30 114
*A. Wainwright 4-0 25 23 4 3 18 1.44 1.99 263
*Wainwright has been out since April with a torn left Achilles tendon but says he could pitch in the playoffs. Garcia has been out since late June with a groin strain but is scheduled to pitch tonight. It’s hard to say who their front three or four would be in the playoffs, but it’s easy to say they’ll be good.
Nationals W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Max Scherzer 10-8 143 103 37 16 166 2.33 2.35 159
J. Zimmermann 8-5 122.2 130 45 21 90 3.30 3.16 112
Gio Gonzalez 8-4 105.2 111 45 39 92 3.83 3.16 96
Joe Ross 2-3 32.2 28 11 3 34 3.03 1.84 123
Ross, 22, has done a good job subbing for Stephen Strasburg, who went on the disabled list July 5 with strained left oblique. Both Strasburg (5-5, 5.16 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 61 IP) and Doug Fister (3-6. 4.50 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 74 IP) have disappointed this year.
Mets W-L IP H ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+
Jacob deGrom 10-6 127.1 89 37 16 166 2.33 2.35 159
Matt Harvey 9-7 125.1 106 44 31 116 3.16 3.69 118
N. Syndergaard 4-5 78.2 70 26 20 82 2.97 2.81 126
Jon Niese 5-9 115.1 124 48 35 74 3.75 4.31 100
Bartolo Colon 9-9 117.1 131 60 14 92 4.60 3.59 81
Five pitchers are listed here because it’s hard to say who the fourth-best Mets pitcher is. Colon, 42, started very well but has faded. He got the team off to a strong start, but it’s been the young front three who have carried the punchless team since.
Notable in their absence from this comparison are the world champion San Francisco Giants. Madison Bumgarner is still their ace (11-5, 3.16 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 131 IP) and Chris Heston (10-5, 3.18, 3.18, 119 IP) has been very good, too. But Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum all have ERA and FIP above 4.00.
You still don’t want to face Bumgarner in a wild-card game, though.
Four days remain until the trade deadline. Johnny Cueto has found a new home in Kansas City. Tyler Clippard was moved, as was Shane Victorino. Let’s take a look at what the Pirates might be up to before Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
First, worth pointing out that shortstop Cole Tucker was removed from the low-A West Virginia lineup tonight. He was in it, and then he wasn’t. No telling if that means he is included in a trade or where he might be headed but worth noting. Tucker, Baseball America’s No. 8 prospect in the Pirates’ system and their first-round pick in 2014, was hitting .288/.318/.369 with two homers and 12 doubles this season.
Update 9:27 p.m.: Jon Heyman reports that Tucker being removed from the lineup is not related to a trade.
According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Pirates remain interested in Ben Zobrist. I reported last week that they inquired about him, but that was prior to the acquisition of Aramis Ramirez. It would seem the need for Zobrist would be lessened now. Jung Ho Kang is doing fine at shortstop and while Sean Rodriguez isn’t providing much with the bat, he is a versatile utility defender. Because of how many teams Zobrist could help, Billy Beane will have his pick of offers, so a trade to the Pirates seems less likely than last week.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports the Pirates are likely to keep Pedro Alvarez after shopping him previously. I’ve heard that the Pirates have been open, to some degree or other, to moving Alvarez since the winter meetings in December, and his first-base defense hasn’t helped their cause. Finding a taker at this point is undoubtedly tough, and they have no one behind him internally to fill in.
Other notes: High-A Bradenton outfielder Harold Ramirez was named the Florida State League player of the week. ... The Pirates promoted shortstop JaCoby Jones to Class AA Altoona. ... Steve Lombardozzi cleared waivers and was sent outright to Class AAA Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS (58-44) defeated Louisville, 4-0 as RHP Chris Volstad (7-4, 3.26) scattered 5 hits and struck out 2 in 7 shutout innings. 2B Gustavo Nunez (.276) was 2 for 3 with a double and 2 RBI, while RF Andy Vasquez (.231) was 2 for 4 with a run scored.
ALTOONA (54-48) lost its third consecutive game to Akron, 2-0. RHP Tyler Glasnow (5-3, 2.43) struck out 12 and allowed 5 hits in 6 innings, but one was a 2-run homer. CF Adam Frazier (.364) had 2 of the team’s 6 hits.
BRADENTON (51-48) scored 2 runs in the eighth to defeat Clearwater, 6-4. RHP Tyler Eppler (2-1, 3.86) blew a save as he allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in his only inning of relief, but still picked up the win. RF Harold Ramirez (.367) was 2 for 5 with a homer and 3 RBIs and CF Austin Meadows (.306) went 2 for 5 and scored 2 runs. DH Jin-De Jhang (.303) and 3B Wyatt Mathisen (.267) each had 2 hits.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (57-42) lost to Hagerstown, 8-4. RHP Alex McRae (4-7, 4.71) gave up 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. DH Jordan Luplow (.250) finished 2 for 4 with a double, 2 RBIs and a run scored. 1B Connor Joe (.225) was 2 for 4.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (20-16) won its ninth consecutive game, 4-3, over Staten Island. RHP Bret Helton (2-4, 4.61) took the loss as he gave up 2 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk while striking out 3. RF Ryan Nagle (.308) was 2 for 3 with 2 doubles, 1 RBI and scored a run, while 3B Mitchell Tolman (.241) was 2 for 3 with a triple and both scored and drove in a run.
BRISTOL (13-17) lost to Pulaski, 13-5. RHP Billy Roth (0-3, 5.84) started and did not allow a hit, but walked 4 and was tagged with 4 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning and took the loss. 1B Carlos Munoz (.400) was 2 for 4 with a homer and 3 RBIs and 3B Julio D La Cruz (.257) finished 2 for 4 and scored a run.
GCL PIRATES (14-11) did not play.
Gerrit Cole in his past four starts: 30 innings, 23 hits, nine runs, eight earned, three walks, 22 strikeouts. Both he and Clint Hurdle spoke Sunday about how strong Cole was Tuesday in Kansas City, how sharp and crisp all four of his pitches were.
“We had all four working,” he said. “Couldn't get the curveball really working as sharp as we wanted [Sunday], nor the changeup. Came out with a fastball up, which was good.”
When Cole can’t get the curveball or changeup working and still allows one run in 72/3 innings to win his 14th game, he’s in a good spot. The only run he allowed resulted from Michael Taylor’s homer. Taylor hit a good pitch, below the strike zone, out to right-center field, and the result baffled Cole.
“I don't know what the heck Taylor did on that pitch,” he said. “He was pulling off all day from the first pitch of the game. I challenged him up in the zone and he was just, he beat the ball to the plate and rolled it over to [Aramis] Ramirez for me. Even the third at-bat, he stayed big, trying to go to left-center. The second at-bat he went underneath the zone and went oppo. It was just a different swing than he had taken.”
The pitch Cole did have Sunday was his fastball, and he and Chris Stewart realized early that they could be effective with the pitch up in the zone.
“We kind of used it to our advantage in certain situations,” he said. “They were aggressive, which played into that hand as well. You just can't make mistakes up in the zone, you have to expand the zone and find ways to stay efficient.”
Cole’s ERA is 2.24 through 1321/3 innings pitched. He has stayed healthy, as have the rest of the Pirates pitchers this season, and consistent. He has been through the division a few times and so far avoided regression, though the toll of the season’s fifth and sixth months, plus continued looks from opposing lineups, will challenge him.
Pirates notebook: Sadler could miss the rest of the season; injury updates.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington addressed the media prior to today’s game. Some highlights:
On the rehab of Gorkys Hernadez and Rob Scahill: Gorkys has been out and has played a couple games in Indianapolis and looks healthy. Our anticipation is, if he continues this way, we'll activate him and have to make a decision with him on day 16. In Rob's case, working through the throwing progression, feeling better
We're making great progress, but still a ways away from game activity for Rob.
We might send Rob back to Florida and let him get built up down there as he's ready to start facing some hitters. It's easier to put together a sim game in Florida than it in a big league ballpark.
On the trade deadline: As you get closer to the deadline, there are more teams that tend to realize maybe the math is working against them.
We'd still like to add to this club. We shored up what we felt like was our biggest soft spot, but that doesn't mean we're done.
On Justin Sellers, who was outrighted to the minors:
We were able to secure outright waivers with him and outright him without ever having to put him technically back on ... because it was one singular move, we reinstated him and outrighted him all in one move.
On A.J. Burnett and any expected regression: He had a remarkable first half. But we expect that A.J.'s going to continue to go out and be a pitcher that gives us a legitimate chance to win every time he takes the baseball. I think he acknowledged he made some mistakes in the middle of the plate last night. Good hitters tend not to miss pitches in the middle of the plate very often and they made him pay for it.
On Casey Sadler: Casey's scuffling a little bit, still trying to work through the soreness and the discomfort. Good days, bad days, unfortunately probably more bad days than good days right now. We're in the process of getting him a second opinion and try to give him some clarity, give us some clarity, as to what is going on in there and why he's continued to have some discomfort. (Note: Sadler posted a picture of himself at the Dr. James Andrews’ sports medicine clinic, a post that appears to have since been removed).
On Andrew Lambo: Andrew Lambo has had a setback in his plantar fasciitis. We've had him see a doctor, he's gotten an [anti-inflammatory] injection. The injection leads to about a three-week shutdown and then we'll ramp him back up and try to get him back going again. He had progressed into some baseball activity and was progressing well and came in with similar pain with what he had the first time we shut it down.
On the team’s plans for Alen Hanson: The original plan was to let Alen settle in at second this year and let the bat play. Let him play one position in games, bounce him to short and second in pre-game work, which he's done pretty much all year. There was going to come a point in time where we'd bounce him to third, try to introduce third base to him. We talked long-term about the outfield as well. Just trying to get the young man as many options to break onto a major league club as possible. With Jordy and Josh going down, we sped that time frame up a little bit. He's obviously swung the bat and done a real nice job down there offensively. Continued to work at short, introduced third base to him, again a little bit earlier than we'd initially planned on. We'll see how it goes. We'll see how the work plays out, if we feel he can play there. If he can be major league caliber there, then we'll continue it. If we don't then we'll short-change it and let him focus back again on second base and shortstop.