ST. LOUIS — It’s a little early for this, but in a month the Pirates might have an interesting decision to make regarding J.A. Happ’s role in the playoffs. Happ has been on fire lately, which I broke down in tonight’s game analysis. He shut down the Cardinals, and that’s not uncommon, as Pirates left-handers entered tonight’s game with a .207 BAA versus St. Louis.
That combination of success, and the potential for more success against the Cardinals raises a question: Should J.A. Happ be a key pitcher in the NLDS? Mind you, I’m not talking about the entire playoffs. I’m just talking about that first full round, which would be against the Cardinals, assuming the Pirates make it past the Wild Card round.
Obviously the next month of play will determine things for sure. But if Happ keeps pitching the way he has been pitching, then starting him against the Cardinals in St. Louis would make all the sense in the world. You’d be starting a hot pitcher who has success against a team that has struggled against Pirates’ left-handers all year. And I’m suggesting all of this while considering that the Pirates might have two of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and A.J. Burnett available for the game.
Happ’s story the last month has been outstanding. He had very little value, and no one expected anything from him. Now he’s pretty much the only reliable starter in the rotation, with Gerrit Cole not being too far off, despite a mini “slump” at the moment. That’s the type of story that you love to see. At the same time, it has only been five starts, and that’s not enough to get overly excited about anything just yet.
There are also other factors to consider. How will Burnett return? Will Liriano fix his recent issues that have led to poor performance? Can Gerrit Cole repeat his strong September from the last two seasons?
If all goes well, then the Pirates could throw Cole up against the Cubs in the Wild Card round, followed by Liriano and Happ in St. Louis, then Cole returning for the third game of the series, which would be at home. Considering the struggles of the Cardinals against left-handers, this would give the Pirates some favorable pitching matchups. And if Happ remains hot through the playoffs, with Liriano bouncing back to his old self, then this rotation could give the Pirates a strong chance to beat the Cardinals and advance in the playoffs.
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**How J.A. Happ Became the Pirates Best Second Half Pitcher. My analysis tonight from St. Louis on how Happ turned things around with the Pirates.
**Angel Sanchez to Have Tommy John Surgery. Another Pirates starter goes down with Tommy John.
**Prospect Watch: Steven Brault Throws Eight Shutout Innings. Brault has been lights out in his last ten outings.
**Burnett: “I expect to be throwing soon for the Pirates, because I feel great.” This is good news for the Pirates, as they need a boost to the non-Happ portion of their rotation right now.