First Pitch: Looking Ahead to J.A. Happ’s Best Role in the Playoffs

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.

**Site Updates: Pirates Prospects Subscriptions For $0.42 Per Month. The best possible deal you could get on the site. This promotion is also available for anyone with a Monthly plan. Anyone with an Annual plan can participate and have the extra year added on at the end of their current plan. And don’t forget, anyone with a Top Prospect plan will get the 2016 Prospect Guide for FREE.

**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.

  • Problem with this entire piece is the assumption that the Pirates will beat Jake Arietta in the silly wild card game? There is NO reason to believe that will happen. Pirates will not even make it to a St. Louis series unless a Pirates pitcher emerges who can pitch HOT as Arietta is and has been pitching most all season.

    Nice season Pirates! Post season? Forget it.

  • Yes the big assumptions are 1) Happ continues his excellent starts 2) We make the playoffs 3) We survive the play in game and 4) If AJ comes back and is like he was the first half of the season.

    • Big assumption #2 has a 99% chance of happening. Weird definition of “big”.

    • #2 is hardly even an assumption. The Pirates have an 11.5 game lead over the Nationals, and 12 games over the Giants. It’s almost guaranteed to be the Pirates and Cubs in the Wild Card game, with the only question being which team has home field.

  • I agree with what your saying. The key is if Liriano and Cole can get thier stuff back in a month. If not it probably won’t matter. But if the Bucs did win the WC game that would be a great set up having 2 lefties to start out in St. Louis.

  • If he continues to pitch as effectively through the remainder of the season as he has since his 2nd start, and that’s a big if, than he has to be in conversation to start WC game. Pirates have to get a stellar start from whoever goes up vs Arrieta, and Happ is currently most reliable SP.
    I doubt CH would name Happ for this game with Cole available, but it has to be considered.

    • I heard Arrieta on Mlb and he said the Cubbies did not overwhelm him with changes. They said get comfortable and pitch. Wow talk about a magic formula.

    • The Pirates need to start a LHP in the WC game to force the Cubs to play Montero instead of Schwarber and to neutralize Rizzo’s power (though he hits LHP for average better than RHP oddly) and maybe have the Cubs play Soler in RF insead of Coughlin. I really want the Pirates to eliminate HRs by the Cubbies in the WC game. Right now Happ is pitching much better than Liriano. But that may change by a month from now. If Happ is still better, pitch him in the WC. Then the starting rotation for the Cardinals sets up as:
      Cole
      Liriano
      AJ
      Happ
      Cole
      Liriano
      Best combo of Happ/AJ/Cole

      I’d use Morton for long relief against the Cards unless AJ isn’t ready to go. Locke should not be used at all in the playoffs unless from the bullpen.

  • Fun site right here:
    http://www.playoffmagic.com/mlb/league/
    Shows the Pirates’ magic number for clinching a playoff spot is 18.

  • You ride the Happ Train as long as you can. Hopefully into the WS.

    With Liriano, I can see a day coming soon where a manager tells his team to not take the bat off their shoulders and see how many called strikes Frankie can actually get.

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