Gerrit Cole shines in postseason debut as Pirates win Game 2

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Partly because they were worried about his innings count, the Pirates seriously considered putting Gerrit Cole into the bullpen for the postseason. It’s a very good thing they didn’t.

Cole pitched six innings of one-run ball and singled in the first run of the game as the Pirates beat the Cardinals 7-1 to even up the NLDS at one game apiece on Friday.

It was pretty much a stress free outing for the 2011 first overall pick in his first postseason appearance. The only run came on a Yadier Molina solo homer when the Pirates were already up 5-0. He threw just 86 pitches before the Pirates decide to turn things over to the pen.

Cole’s hit came in the second with Pedro Alvarez on second base. Shortstop Jordy Mercer was intentionally walked to bring up the pitcher’s spot, but Cole, who was 7-for-34 with five RBI in the regular season, responded with a single up the middle.

The stellar performance will force a tough decision on manager Clint Hurdle if the NLDS goes five games. With two off days coming up, Cole can come back in Game 5 on normal rest. Of course, that was supposed to be A.J. Burnett’s assignment, but Burnett was torched for seven runs in two-plus innings in the Game 1 loss. Cole seems like the better bet of the two with the way he threw today.

Of course, the series still has to go five games first. The Cardinals will throw Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha in Pittsburgh on Sunday and Monday. The Pirates will use wild-card winner Francisco Liriano in Game 3 and sinkerballer Charlie Morton the next day.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.