ST. LOUIS AIRPORT – I don’t believe in momentum.
I do believe in your next day’s starting pitcher.
Friday was a make-or-break day for the Pirates: at stake was an 0-2 hole or gaining home-field advantage in the NLDS. What more can you say about Gerrit Cole? The kid delivered again on the biggest stage of his life and in the most meaningful game he has pitched in since leading UCLA over TCU in an elimination game in the 2010 College World Series. You’re right, Clint Hurdle. Cole does wear “big-boy” pants.
Because of what Cole did Friday, because Francisco Liriano is the Game 3 starter – 0-3 0.75 ERA in three starts vs. Cardinals this season – the playoff pendulum has swung in favor of the Pirates.
It’s not because of some nebulous force we call “momentum” in sport. The Pirates now have the advantage because Liriano vs. Joe Kelly is a lopsided match-up in favor of the Pirates.
*Carlos Beltran is a much better hitter vs. RHP.
*Despite being right-handed, 21 of Matt Holliday’s 22 home runs have come vs. RHP.
*Matt Carpenter is 50 OPS points worse against LHP, though he’s still very good and perhaps the most underrated player in the game. Only Robinson Cano has a higher WAR among second baseman.
*David Freese is 0-for-8 in his career vs. Liriano.
*Poor Matt Adams has never faced Liriano or his slider which Liriano threw 44 times vs. the Reds and generated 34 strikes and 13 swinging strikes. His first 12 sliders thrown to lefties vs. Reds generated eight swings and misses. It’s a devastating pitch he’s thrown more often than any time since his rookie year.
The playoff pendulum has swung not because of some shapeless force we call “momentum” but because of Liriano and because of Mike Matheny.
Send thank you notes to Matheny for sending Kelly to the mound as a stating pitcher in this series.
Yes, I know Shelby Miller might be tiring. Yes, I know Kelly had success in two starts against the Pirate this season. But he did allow base runners and two starts is a small sample. What is more useful in predictive analysis is Kelly’s strikeout rate (5.3) and walk rate (3.2), which are both mediocre. Kelly has a 93-96 mph fastball but he has no real effective off-speed offerings.
Kelly is the Cardinals’ Jeff Locke.
His FIP is 4.01. His ERA is 2.69.
He is going to regress at some point.
His regression might very well begin in his first postseason start, on the road, in a rowdy PNC Park.
It’s a great matchup for the Pirates.
Game 4 will be more difficult because Michael Wacha is nearly the talent Cole is. Wach’s changeup is crazy good.
Call it momentum, call it whatever, but because of home-field and its advantages, because of the Game 3 pitching match-up the advantage has swung.
PIRATES LOSING THEIR MARKET INEFFICIENCY ADVANTAGE?
The most troubling thing to happen in St. Louis for the Pirates happened off the field.
It happened during Neil Walker’s pre-game press conference on Friday.
Reporters from MLB.com and the Chicago Tribune started asking Walker about the Pirates’ dramatic shifting. I’ve been told that several major league front offices have discussed the Pirates comprehensive defensive plan
“It’s going to be universally implanted in baseball if you ask me,” Walker said. “But it’s going to take some time.”
The Pirates’ secret weapon, its comprehensive defensive plan, is no longer a secret. As one of my Twitter followers said, when it’s in the papers it’s no longer a market inefficiency,
More and more teams will dramatically increase their use of shifts and combine it with increasing their pitchers’ two-seam useage. More groundballs into more shifts.
The defensive plan is one reason why the Pirates have an 11-10 game advantage over the Cardinals this season despite the Cardinals’ vastly superior offensive capabilities.
The Pirates defensive improvement from 2010 to 2013 has been worth 12 wins.
The challenge for the Pirates, for Dan Fox and his associates, is now to find the next market inefficiency. The defensive one, is closing.