The Pirates have dropped their first two games of the season against the Red Sox, which is obviously not a great result. But many, including myself, were heartened by the pitching performance they saw from Jameson Taillon last night. His final line was impressive — 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. To contrast, the general takeaway from Opening Day was that Gerrit Cole was terrible and, according to fans on various social media platforms, was — “same old Cole”, “not an ace”, “hotheaded”, “crybaby”, etc. His final line reflects a sub-par day — 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K (1 HR allowed).
But if you were intently watching the games and not just evaluating by the box scores, you’d see that their performances were more similar than their final lines suggest. I’d even go so far as to say that their stat lines could have been reversed, had it not been for some inopportune luck for Cole and some fortunate luck for Taillon.
Gerrit Cole was in absolute control of his game through the first 4-2/3 innings. Through that span, he allowed no hits and only 1 walk, setting the powerful Red Sox lineup down in order through the first three innings. In the fourth, he allowed the one walk, then in the fifth came out and got two quick outs on four pitches. He was on complete cruise control, having thrown just 54 pitches through the first 4-2/3 innings. His 97 mph fastball was his main pitch of the day, but he was experimenting with his changeup, heretofore in his career a vastly underutilized pitch.
And then Jackie Bradley, Jr. stepped to the plate.
That’s a 97 mph fastball, inside, that Bradley turned on and lined into the right-field corner. With his speed and a good carom, Bradley legged out a triple. Pablo Sandoval followed and nubbed an infield hit to Jordy Mercer, who made a valiant attempt to throw him out. MLB.com had the gall to use the terms “Sandoval” and “hustle” in the caption for the video.
Catcher Sandy Leon put down a surprise bunt hit that Cole bobbled and then Dustin Pedroia singled home Sandoval to make it 2-0. Some damage was done, but it wasn’t insurmountable. There were two on and two out with rookie Andrew Benintendi at the plate.
Again, that’s a 97 mph fastball, but this time it’s belt high and pretty much center cut. Benintendi didn’t put it in the upper deck or anything, but it was comfortably into the bullpen beyond McCutchen in right field. And like that it was 5-0, the hole was too big for the Pirates to escape, and Cole’s great start would be relegated to the dustbin of ‘what if?’ and frustration.
In contrast, Taillon danced through the raindrops much more in his start. He induced a double play to clean up the 2nd inning and then in the 3rd, after giving up a double to Sandy Leon, he needed Andrew McCutchen to throw Leon out at the plate to keep the Red Sox off the board. Let me re-state that — Andrew McCutchen, your new right fielder, had to come up throwing and nail a guy at the plate to save a run.
In the fourth inning, Taillon hung this meaty 87 mph changeup to Mitch Moreland, who promptly hammered it out to right field:
That’s a spicy meatball that Emporio would be proud to serve up. Dead center, belt-high. If it were anyone else in the Red Sox lineup not named ‘Mitch Moreland’ that would have been a two-run homer. Kudos to McCutchen, again, on saving a potential home run (although it was much more routine than Bob Walk alluded to at the end of the video).
In the fifth, Taillon put the first two guys on with a walk and a single, before coming back to get strikeouts on Sandoval and Leon. After uncorking a wild pitch and having runners on 2nd and 3rd, Taillon induced this weak grounder from Dustin Pedroia on a hanging 83 mph curveball.
Taillon’s curveball was on point for most of the night, but this wasn’t one of them. It’s not a terrible pitch, but it is a hanger and I’m betting that Pedroia would like another bite at that apple. So with all of that cleanup needed and some fortunate plays by McCutchen, Taillon left the 5th inning with a shutout still intact. After inducing another inning-ending double play in the 6th, Taillon had a more standard, clean 7th inning and left with his exceptional line.
If the Pirates are going to make some noise in the NL Wild Card race this year, they need both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon to pitch to their fullest potential. If you want to get hung up and say that Cole is a #1 and Taillon is a #2, or vice versa, or neither, go for it. At his peak, which we all saw in 2015 but apparently many have forgotten, Gerrit Cole is an ace. You don’t stumble into 208 innings of 2.60 ERA, just 44 walks and 202 strikeouts. In that crazy year of Kershaw-Arrieta-Greinke, Cole finished 4th in the Cy Young race, but most years that wins it. I don’t think Taillon will consistently post as flashy of strikeout numbers as Cole, as he seems more content to induce weak groundball contact, but they both want to get to the same endpoint — 200 ultra-dependable innings that give their team a chance to win every start. They may just use different methods to get there.
It’s one start for each of them. One. Start. They hopefully have at least 31 more in their right arms this season. By getting too high on Taillon and too low on Cole, you’re ignoring the fact that their respective starts were not that much different.