Can The Pirates Make The Postseason Without Gerrit Cole?
By Marty Leap
On Saturday the Pirates announced that Gerrit Cole would miss his next start due to an elbow issue. This got me thinking, can the Pirates make the postseason without Gerrit Cole?
The Pittsburgh Pirates currently find themselves in a heated battle for a postseason berth. The Pirates are currently tied with the Miami Marlins in the National League Wild Card standings. And the Bucs and Fish are one and a half games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot, and just three games behind the San Francisco Giants for the top Wild Card spot.
However, the Pirates’ postseason hopes took a big hit yesterday. This is because the Pirates announced that Gerrit Cole is dealing with an elbow issue. Due to this elbow issue, Cole will miss his next start.
While some members of the Pirate fan base do not think this, Gerrit Cole is the Pirates’ best starting pitcher. When healthy, Cole is one of the ten best starting pitchers in the National League. So making the postseason without Cole will not be easy.
In his last four starts Gerrit Cole struggled immensely. Quite honestly, he seemed to be hurt in some capacity. So Saturday’s news was not surprising to me.
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In these four starts Cole pitched just 21 2/3 innings. In these 21 2/3 innings pitched he allowed 34 hits, had a 1.89 WHIP, his ground ball rate was just 47.3 percent, and he was averaging just 7.48 K/9. All of this resulted in Cole posting a 7.06 ERA, 4.40 FIP, and a 3.99 xFIP in his past four starts.
It was not just the poor results that led me to believe something was wrong with Cole, though. His velocity was down and his pitches seemed flat. Any time a pitcher’s pitches are flat they are, most likely, going to get hit hard. But when their velocity is down as well, it is truly a recipe for disaster.
Prior to this disastrous four game stretch Gerrit Cole was having another fantastic season. Through his first 92 1/3 innings pitched this season Cole was averaging 7.51 K/9, 2,44 BB/9, 0.29 HR/9, and he had a 1.27 WHIP. These results led to Cole having a 2.73 ERA and a FIP of 2.88. Both Cole’s ERA and FIP were in the top five in all of Major League Baseball.
From the start of 2015 through his start on August second Cole was one of the best starting pitchers in the all of baseball. During this stretch Gerrit Cole pitched 300 1/3 innings and was averaging 8.36 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9, and he had a 1.15 WHIP and a 2.70 FIP. Regardless of what some Pirate fans want to think, Cole has turned into an ace.
However, the Pirate ace is now injured. Most worrisome, it is an elbow injury. Any time a pitcher has elbow problems it is reason for major concern. Now the question becomes can the Pirates make the postseason without Gerrit Cole?
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While I still believe it is possible for the Pirates to reach the postseason without Cole, it will be much more difficult. The Pirates’ rotation has pitched extremely well the past few weeks. However, if they sustain another injury or someone’s production begins to drop, which due to his age is always a concern with Ryan Vogelsong, they could find themselves in serious trouble.
If the Pirates do reach the postseason yet again, in my opinion, they need a healthy Gerrit Cole to make a postseason run. And with how deep the Pirates’ lineup is, how much of a strength the bullpen has become, and how well the team has played the past two months this is a team very capable of making a deep postseason run. But the Bucs need a healthy Cole for this to happen.
One day this week Cole will see an elbow doctor in Los Angeles. The Pirates have said they believe there is no structural damage with Cole’s elbow which is great news. There is a good chance it is just bone spurs. This is an issue Noah Syndergaard dealt with earlier this year, and, after skipping a start, it has not slowed him down at all.
Either Steven Brualt or Trevor Williams will start for Cole against the Chicago Cubs on Monday. Nothing against Brault or Williams, but neither of these pitchers are on the same level as Gerrit Cole. Hell, Williams has never even pitched in the Major Leagues.
Further complicating things for the Pirates is Tyler Glasnow being on the disabled list. Hopefully Glasnow’s next rehab start goes well, he is healthy, and able to rejoin the Pirates’ rotation soon. Of the pitcher that can replace Gerrit Cole in the starting rotation, Tyler Glasnow is the only one that can potentially give production similar to Cole’s.
Now, for all anyone knows Steven Brault or Trevor Williams could step in a pitch great for the Pirates. Brault has just two Major League starts, but he has shown some good things in those starts. And while Williams has not made his Major League debut yet, he has been phenomenal at Triple-A this season (2.79 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 1.23 WHIP). So there is reason for optimism with both pitchers.
Also, with how well the Pirate bullpen is now pitching they do not need Cole’s replacement to be a world beater. If Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, or whoever replaces Gerrit Cole can consistently give the Pirate five or six innings of three runs or less ball, the Bucs should be in good shape. Especially with the roster being just four days away from expanding and A.J. Schugel returning to help the pen as well.
When at full strength, the Pirates’ starting rotation is one capable of making a deep postseason run. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon is a strong one-two punch at the top of the rotation, and pitchers such as Chad Kuhl and Ryan Vogelsong round out a solid back end of the rotation. However, the Pirate rotation is not at full strength at this current moment.
While Pirate fans will say Gerrit Cole is not an ace, this simply is not true. The Pirates might be able to earn a fourth consecutive postseason berth without Gerrit Cole. However, if they are going to make a run in the postseason they need their ace to be healthy. Hopefully Cole’s trip to the doctor’s this week goes well.