In the final game of the series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, the Pirates sent newly-found team ace Francisco Liriano to the mound to try and sweep the last series between the two teams for the season.
How the Pirates have it set, Liriano pitched on Wednesday, A.J. Burnett will pitch on Friday and Charlie Morton will more than likely pitch the game on Saturday. All of the games this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds will be gravely important in determining who will be the home team for the one game NL Wild Card game. This has become the biggest question in Pittsburgh since the Pirates clinched a playoff berth: Who will pitch the most important game in the past 20 years for the Pirates?
How it is set up now, it would be Liriano’s turn in the rotation. However, if the Pirates want to, they could pitch Burnett on pretty much four days rest or Morton on three days rest. This will be one of the most important decisions that manager Clint Hurdle will ever make. This decision will be criticized and debated whether the Pirates win or lose.
To help us decide, let us look at the pitchers’ numbers.
Liriano has a 16-8 record with an ERA below three. In his last start against the Reds, Liriano pitched eight innings giving up only two earned runs and three hits while striking out seven. Over the past three games, Liriano has been up and down having a very good start, then a below average start and then comes right back with a solid start.
Burnett has been the heart and soul of the Pirates over the past two seasons. He has a 9-11 record with an ERA at 3.39 and leads the team in strikeouts. On Saturday, Burnett pitched an excellent game as well against the Reds, going seven innings and giving up two earned runs off of four hits and striking out 12. Before this start, Burnett had two-straight starts where he could not get out of the sixth inning. Before those starts, Burnett pitched excellent for most of the season. He just had the misfortune of not having the Pirates scoring behind him.
Last is Morton. He is one person that no one would have thought would even be in this conversation. Morton’s record this season is 7-4 with an ERA of 3.13. Morton did not face the Reds in the last series, but take these numbers into consideration. Over the last 10 starts, Morton only had one outing where he let up more than three runs. In his last three starts, he has only let up two runs in each game and has looked better than he ever has in his career.
Having these three men to choose from is a great problem to have if you are Hurdle. Morton may not get the nod because he will have pitched against the Reds on Saturday, only giving him three days’ rest. That leaves Burnett and Liriano. Do you go with the lefty who has been, at times, unhittable, or do you go with the veteran from the New York Yankees who has pitched in more playoff games than any other Pirate, and has won some of those games?
I believe that either one of these pitchers would do. I feel that both of these men are gamers and would give the Pirates the edge they need. But, since I posted the question of who should start, I would go with the man who is not afraid of anything and that is Burnett. I feel that Burnett would handle the pressure better than anyone else, and I feel that he is someone that the Reds could never even begin to intimidate. But again, I don’t get paid to make that decision, Clint Hurdle does. The decision he makes will be a tough one, but I know that he will make the best decision that he possibly can for the good of the team.