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The Pirates Need the Unstoppable Trio of Cole, Burnett, and Liriano

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The Pirates dropped game one of their important series with the St. Louis Cardinals, but if there’s one consolation it’s that they’ve got their big three starters line up for the next three games. Gerrit Cole starts tonight, followed by A.J. Burnett on Saturday and Francisco Liriano on Sunday. All three have been putting up fantastic numbers this year, with ERAs and FIPs under 3.00. Only Burnett has an xFIP above that mark, at 3.22.

What is even more impressive is the fact that the Pirates have dominated in series that saw all three of these pitchers starting. Maybe this is just coincidence, or maybe there is something to this, where an opposing team struggles when facing so many quality pitchers in a row. So far this year there have been six opponents who had to face the Pirates trio in the same series. The Pirates are 15-7 overall in those series, sweeping four of them, and splitting a four game series 2-2. The only bad results came early in the year, when they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds, then lost 2-1 against the Tigers.

Since that poor early start, the Pirates have swept the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Tigers on the road, while sweeping the Mets at home, and splitting a four game series against the Phillies on the road. The encouraging thing is that, with the exception of the Phillies, all of those teams are currently .500 or better. So it’s not like the trio of Cole, Burnett, and Liriano have just been beating up on bad teams.

The hope is that the Pirates can continue this trend during the current Cardinals series. If the trio can take two of the next three, then the Pirates enter the All-Star break sitting 4.5 back from first place. That’s where they started this series, so they wouldn’t make up any ground. But that’s not a bad position to be in with two and a half months remaining in the season. And if the trio can pull off the sweep over the next three games, then the Pirates will get even closer, pulling to 2.5 games back from St. Louis, which would be a great position to be in.

Friday Night – 7:05 PM start
Lance Lynn (6-4, 2.53 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (12-3)

Lance Lynn is currently 7th in the National League in ERA (2.53), FIP (2.72), and K/9 at a rate of 9.46. He is also 5th in HR/9 while only allowing an 0.49 HR/9 (AJ Burnett is first at 0.24).

Lynn is coming off of a five game stretch where he has an 0.85 ERA, and hitters are batting .193 against him with a .460 OPS. In that span, Lynn has pitched 31.2 innings and has only allowed three earned runs. In his last outing on July 5th, Lynn went seven innings without allowing an earned run and striking out eight against the Padres.

In his first outing against the Pirates on May 1st, Lynn went seven strong innings and only allowed one earned run, an RBI single by Burnett. Most impressively, Lynn struck out ten Pirate batters while only walking one.

Lynn has five pitches with a 4-seam, 2-seam, slider, curve, and changeup. His four-seam velocity is slightly down this year, averaging 91.8 MPH and topping out around 95. Hitters are only batting .175 against the four-seamer while jumping all over the two-seam fastball at a .348 clip.

He was drafted 39th overall in the 2008 draft by the Cardinals out of Ole Miss. It was reported that Lynn made some mechanical adjustments in 2010 while pitching in Triple-A Memphis because of an abundance of walks; suddenly, his stock value skyrocketed back to where it was when he was drafted, and he made his way to pitching in St. Louis in 2011.

Gerrit Cole is coming off of a great start on Sunday against the Indians, where he gave up three earned runs early but took control late to retire 16 batters in a row to end his outing. Cole is currently first in wins in the league with 12, 3rd in FIP (2.60), 6th in ERA in the NL (2.28), 6th in HR/9 (0.49), and 9th in K/9 (9.22).

Cole’s fastball is averaging 95.5 mph this season, which is right in line with his career average. He has increased the usage of his slider so far this year, and hitters are only batting .158 against that pitch. Look out for that slider when Cole has two strikes, as he has used it consistently as a strikeout pitch this season. – Sean McCool

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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