Why the Pittsburgh Pirates are postseason bound again in 2015

Gerrit Cole

The Pittsburgh Pirates currently sit at 42–33 overall and are second in the NL Central this season, only trailing the MLB leading St. Louis Cardinals. Here are a few reasons why the Pirates have been as successful as they have been thus far through the season and why they will continue their winning ways into the postseason.

Pitching: The Pirates are currently second overall in team pitching as a unit this season. Largely in part because of the success that starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett have had up to this point in 2015.

Let’s start with Burnett; Burnett was a quality starter for the Pirates during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. During that time he had 61 starts, pitched 393.1 innings, went 27–21 overall, and posted a 3.41 ERA, along with a 1.23 WHIP.

He was a solid arm for the Pirates for those two seasons; someone the Pirates counted on to eat up innings on the mound. Then following the 2013 campaign, he and the Pirates parted ways when Burnett went to Philadelphia and pitched for the Phillies.

In 2014, Burnett’s numbers dramatically declined as he went 8–18 overall, had a 4.59 ERA and a WHIP of 1.41 while making 34 appearances for Philadelphia. The Pirates brought back the 38 year old veteran in 2015 and it has been a great decision so far for the organization.

Through 15 starts this season, Burnett is putting up career numbers. Out of those 15 starts; 12 have been quality starts, he has a 6–3 record, with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. Burnett has been walking fewer batters this season as well, as he’s only allowed 27 BB’s over 98.1 IP.

Burnett has pitched well in each of his three seasons in Pittsburgh throughout his career and I look for him to continue to do so through the rest of season and into the postseason. He simply pitches better with Pittsburgh and obviously is feeling comfortable and confident on the mound again with them again this season.

Now let’s talk about Gerrit Cole. The 24 year old youngster has been magnificent for Pittsburgh this season and brings a bright future and a lot of hope to the organization. Cole has an 11–3 overall record with a 2.16 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 95.2 IP in 15 starts this season. Cole is flat out getting hitters out in a variety of ways. Over those 15 starts (12 quality), he has 102 K’s, which is good enough for a 9.60 K/9 and he has only allowed 25 free passes so far this season.

Pittsburgh has a lot of expectations for Cole, he very well could be an All-Star this season, but many people in baseball believe he has the potential for Cy Young awards as his career goes on, as he is proving to be that dominant even at his young age.

Cole has an arsenal of five pitches, but tends to rely on his fastball often, which just so happens to get up around 97 MPH. He mainly mixes in his sinker and slider with the occasional curveball and changeup. Look for Cole to stay hot and dominate on the mound while continuing to lead the Pirates solid rotation back to the postseason again in 2015.

Burnett and Cole have played a huge part in the success of Pittsburgh this season, but there have been a few other arms from the pitching staff that have helped contribute to Pittsburgh’s winning ways as well.

Francisco Liriano: 15 starts (11 quality starts), team-leading 108 K’s, 3.21 ERA, 1.01 WHIP over 95.1 IP. Liriano has always been a strikeout pitcher and is proving that once again in 2015. He only has 4 wins on the season as he has not had the best run support during his starts, but he is having a really solid year for the Pirates, he adds good depth along with Cole and Burnett in the rotation and provides a different look from those two by being a lefty.

Tony Watson: 36 appearances over 37.1 IP, 18 holds, 34–8 K/BB, 1.69 ERA, .88 WHIP. Watson has been impressive this season. The lefty reliever; who was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2007 amateur draft, has picked up where he left off last year when he went 10–2 overall with a 1.63 ERA. Opponents are hitting a measly .189 against Watson so far this year. That bodes well for any pitcher.

Mark Melancon: 37 appearances over 36.2 IP, 24 saves, 24–7 K/BB, 1.72 ERA, .98 WHIP. Since coming over from Boston in 2013, Melancon has been very productive for Pittsburgh. Even in his worst season in Pittsburgh (2014) he still posted a solid 1.90 ERA. He should pass his career season high in saves (33) before too long and will look to continue closing out games for the Pirates as they attempt to reach the playoffs once again this season. He should have plenty of save chances as the Pirates closer with Cole, Burnett, and Liriano leading the way for Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s pitching staff have led them so far this season and I believe they have some really quality arms in their rotation and bullpen. Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t performed as well as they had hoped thus far, but look for the offense to pick it up a bit and help take some pressure off the pitchers soon enough.

I don’t know if the Pirates can catch the Cardinals in the NL Central, but I definitely see this team reaching the postseason, at least through the NL Wildcard. It makes things a lot easier when you have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. Great pitching beats great hitting, especially in the postseason when it matters most.

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