By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media
Morning, Lunatics …
>> The weekly chat will take place right here on the blog at noon. As soon as you see the post get published, you’re free to submit entries. All topics welcome.
>> No Friday column. My apologies. Rough day. Back at it today.
>> Clint Hurdle dropped his first few hints about the Pirates’ pitching into the playoffs yesterday, making clear they’ll line up Francisco Liriano to start either the season finale in Cincinnati — on short rest — or the wild-card game.
That’s wonderful. Liriano’s been my choice for weeks. He’s the guy on the staff most capable of outright greatness, he’s shown it more often than anyone else, and his simply being left-handed could neutralize either the Reds’ best hitter or the Cardinals’ entire lineup. In any single-game setting, you’ll take every edge you can find before the fact. Liriano gives you that in nearly every category.
From there, the current rotation leads logically to A.J. Burnett being next. Sure, he’s been tagged for five or more runs in half of his past eight starts, but his continuing strong K rate — seven or more in six of his past 10 starts, eight in the most recent — against only 19 total walks in that same span powerfully suggests he’s holding up just fine.
Besides, at the risk of going all intangible on you … he’s A.J. There’s nothing barring injury that should keep him from starting in the playoffs. The man’s earned it, and he’s done so in part because of his fierce competitiveness. He’s exactly the type you’d want to take the ball for a fledgling playoff participant.
It gets a little murky after that.
Do you go with a three-man rotation and tiptoe through the playoff schedule’s built-in off-days?
Not me. Remember, all those September callups vanish, and you’re right back to a 12-man staff. Assuming Jeff Locke and Jeanmar Gomez are the long men, you could go with Charlie Morton as No. 3, Gerrit Cole as No. 4 — or flipping the two based on matchups or other circumstances, doesn’t really matter — and still keep everyone fresh with six other relievers.
Cole’s not a clear-cut case, even after that sensational 12K showing yesterday. It’s great that the Pirates no longer are limiting his innings, but it also holds true that he is now the only pitcher in the rotation to have pitched continuously since the opening of camp. Locke had been the other, but he recently was given that week off to recover. Cole hasn’t had that. And even if you toss aside injury concern — never smart — it’s worth weighing in the broader sense that he’s more likely to hit a wall than anyone else.
If Cole goes fourth, there are two benefits:
1. He keeps fresh.
2. He’s shown quite a bit lately he embraces the stopper role. In the event of trouble, Game 4 is as good a place as any for a pivoting point.
3. In a desperate situation leading into a Game 7, he could be available to piggyback.
Would love to hear your thoughts. List your four starters, in order — regardless of a wild-card game — as well as your eight relievers.
I didn’t even mention Jason Grilli, who could pose one of the most difficult questions of all.
Anyway, back to the current world …
The Pirates showed their resilience again. by avoiding a four-game sweep by the Padres. Travis Sawchik reports from PNC Park.
Tony Sanchez made the dugout catch of … what, the century? Karen Price focuses on that.
Here’s our full Pirates coverage.
Here are official game highlights from MLB.com.
>> Ryan Clark discusses the Steelers’ immediate goals. Ping pong beat writer Alan Robinson reports.
Here’s our full Steelers coverage, including a Le’Veon Bell update.
Here’s the latest on the Bears from the Chicago Tribune.
>> Speaking of the Bears, the Penguins and Blackhawks will take over Soldier Field in the winter, but what about facing the Flyers at Penn State? Rob Rossi inquires from Chicago.
Here’s our full Penguins coverage., including a strong effort from Sidney Crosby in the shootout win over the Stanley Cup champs last night.
Here are official game highlights from NHL.com.
>> Pitt’s seeking more takeaways. Jerry DiPaola takes it away.
>> Penn State and West Virginia will meet again … when we’re all a lot older. Chris Adamski looks way ahead.
>> I’ll join TribLIVE Radio at 11:30 a.m., a half-hour before the chat. Hope to have you aboard.