How the Pirates' rotation shapes up the rest of the season

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

As of today, the Pirates have a one-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals and 3.5-game lead on the Cincinnati Reds with 25 games to play. Winning the NL Central is a huge benefit because the winner avoids the one-game, play-in playoff game.

The Bucs have a rotation with two clear front-end starters in Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, both of whom have missed time earlier this year with non-throwing arm injuries, and a clear number three in Charlie Morton who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. The injuries suffered by each pitcher now turn into a late-season benefit as none of the three has pitched a heavy innings workload to this point. Liriano has pitched 133 innings after throwing 156.2 last year and Burnett has gone 160 after pitching 202.1 last year. Morton is a different case. He has worked 90 innings this season and is the midst of the best stretch of his career. Over his last six starts he’s 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in 41.1 IP. He’s worked at least six innings in each outing and done it efficiently, throwing fewer than 100 pitches each time.

With the team trying to manage Gerrit Cole’s innings down the stretch, Jeff Locke imploding in the second half and Wandy Rodriguez likely not coming back before the season’s end, the Pirates need to maximize the starts of the front three starters and have each pitch on four days rest, working the rest of the rotation around them.

Here is the schedule and how it could play out. The off-day this week sets up Jeff Locke coming back into the rotation and gives the Pirates a chance to push Gerrit Cole back to the Texas series with extra rest. The problem, however, comes after that. The Pirates play the next 20 days straight. I have slotted everyone into their normal spot in the rotation, but this is where Brandon Cumpton, Jeanmar Gomez and others become valuable if Locke or Cole falter or need extra rest.

UPDATE: I inadvertently switched Cole & Burnett early in my original rotation. As you can see that impacts how the last series against Cincinnati plays out. It gives the team a variety of options depending on the standings. A.J. and Charlie pitching on five days rest and bringing back Francisco for the last game with four days rest or saving him.

(Excuse the formatting, working to make it clearer.)

Date

Starting Pitcher

Days Rest/Opponent

Tues, Sept 3

Gerrit Cole

4/ at Milwaukee

Wed, Sept 4

Francisco Liriano

4/ at Milwaukee

Thurs, Sept 5

Off Day

----

Fri, Sept 6

A.J. Burnett

5/ at St. Louis

Sat, Sept 7

Charlie Morton

4/ at St. Louis

Sun, Sept 8

Jeff Locke

11/ at St. Louis

Mon, Sept 9

Francisco Liriano

4/ at Texas

Tues, Sept 10

Gerrit Cole

7/ at Texas

Wed, Sept 11

A.J. Burnett

4/ at Texas

Thurs, Sept12

Charlie Morton

4/ Chicago

Fri, Sept 13

? Jeff Locke

4/ Chicago

Sat, Sept 14

Francisco Liriano

4/ Chicago

Sun, Sept 15

Gerrit Cole

4/ Chicago

Mon, Sept 16

A.J. Burnett

4/ San Diego

Tues, Sept 17

Charlie Morton

4/ San Diego

Wed, Sept 18

? Jeff Locke

4/ San Diego

Thurs, Sept 19

Francisco Liriano

4/ San Diego

Fri, Sept 20

?Gerrit Cole

4/ Cincinnati

Sat, Sept 21

A.J. Burnett

4/ Cincinnati

Sun, Sept 22

Charlie Morton

4/ Cincinnati

Mon, Sept 23

? Jeff Locke

4/ at Chicago

Tues, Sept 24

Francisco Liriano

4/ at Chicago

Wed, Sept 25

?Gerrit Cole

4/ at Chicago

Thurs, Sept 26

Off Day

Fri, Sept 27

A.J. Burnett

5/ at Cincinnati

Sat, Sept 28

Charlie Morton

5/ at Cincinnati

Sun, Sept 29

Francisco Liriano

4/ at Cincinnati

Possible One-game Playoff

Here's who figures to get the starts over the next 25 games: Francisco Liriano 6, A.J. Burnett 5, Charlie Morton 5, Gerrit Cole 5, Jeff Locke 4.

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