The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals will begin a best-of-five series on Thursday evening at Busch Stadium in St. Louis; in all likelihood, the team that pitches better will emerge victorious. Both teams have good starting pitching, but only one team can have the best staff.
First, let’s consider the most likely rotation scenarios for both the Bucs and the Cards. The Pirates will have a rotation of A.J. Burnett, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano in no particular order. The Cardinals will have Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha or Joe Kelly presumably. I’m going to assume Wacha gets the nod over Kelly based on his previous near no-hitter.
To begin the comparison, we will pair up the potential four man rotation matchups: Liriano vs. Wainwright, Burnett vs. Miller, Cole vs. Lynn and Morton vs. Wacha.
Liriano had a dominating seven inning performance against the Cincinnati Reds in the Wild Card game, but he had a great season overall as well. In 26 starts, the lefty went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA. He racked up plenty of strikeouts and limited his walks better than he has in previous years. Wainwright went 19-9 in 34 starts with a 2.94 ERA and walked just 1.30 batters per nine innings. I’m going to assume Liriano will be pitching Game 3 or 4, and that will be at PNC Park where he only lost one game all season, so that makes me lean towards Liriano. This is extremely close, but I have to give the edge to Liriano here.
Burnett went just 10-11 in his 30 starts but did have a 3.30 ERA this season. He led the National League in K/9 among starting pitchers with 9.85 and had a very good 2.92 xFIP. In 31 starts, Miller went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA and a 3.73 xFIP. Burnett has a slight edge over Miller, especially when you consider that Miller is a rookie and Burnett is a veteran.
Cole only made 19 starts for the Bucs, but he went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA. He started to rack up strikeouts down the stretch, but his overall K/9 of just 7.67 isn’t all that impressive for a guy that can touch 100 mph with his fastball. He is a rookie, but he doesn’t act like one, showing great composure. Lynn seemed to be a punching bag for Cardinals’ fans on Twitter this season, but I’m not sure why. He had a 15-10 record with a 3.97 ERA. They are both good pitchers, but Cole seems superior, even with his rookie status.
Morton, also known as “Ground Chuck”, missed a couple months of the season but ended up going 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA. He had a crazy 62.9 ground ball rate though; getting ground ball outs is a great key to success. Wacha went 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 64.2 innings. Even though he is a rookie, he is clearly better than Morton.
The Pirates had the advantage in three of the four matchups, so I give the Pirates’ rotation the nod over the Cards’ rotation.