I understand letting Jeff Locke start today. That sounds crazy in hindsight, but I really do. Locke has looked marginally better since returning from his demotion, and he turned in a gem against the Cubs last weekend. Brandon Cumpton, Kris Johnson, and Stolmy Pimentel have all been used pretty sparingly since joining the Pirates after Indianapolis's season ended. Using a rusty, inexperienced rookie against a lineup like the Reds is a dangerous proposition.
Here's what I don't understand: this game was huge. A win for the Pirates would give them a two-game lead on the Reds with six games left. A win for the Pirates would keep them two back of the Cardinals heading into a week where the Cardinals will play the Nats and the Pirates will play the Cubs, which is not ideal but also potentially manageable. A win for the Pirates had an outside shot at clinching a playoff berth for them with six games left, because their magic number coming in was three and the Nationals are playing a double-header today. On top of it all, PNC Park was jammed full to the brim with almost 39,000 fans for the last home game of an incredible season. Cumpton and Pimentel and Johnson would've all been dangerous bets, but that doesn't mean that Jeff Locke was a safe bet. How is it possible that nobody was even up in the bullpen until the Reds were up 3-0? How did the Pirates get caught so flat-footed by Locke's bad start that they had no choice but to let him face Todd Frazier after Bruce's bases-clearing double? What's the point of having expanded rosters and such a huge bullpen if you can't respond to an emergency situation in a timely fashion in the biggest game of the year?
This will be Jeff Locke's last start of the season for the Pirates. It's been obvious for a while that he wouldn't make the playoff rotation as a starter, but the Pirates won't need a fifth starter at all again in 2013. Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, and Francisco Liriano will start against the Cubs this week. The Pirates have an off-day on Thursday, which will let them start AJ Burnett, Morton, and Cole on regular rest against the Reds in Cincinnati next weekend. We will likely see Francisco Liriano in the bullpen to stay sharp over the weekend, because he will have six days between his start against the Cubs on Wednesday and his start against the Reds in the wild card game the next Tuesday, October 1st.
The Pirates are still overwhelming favorites to play in the wild card game. The Nationals have already lost once today, and they're losing again right now (it's 3-2 Marlins at the end of five). If the Nats lose this game tonight, it will be their 73rd loss, which is the same number as the maximum number of games the Pirates can possible lose this year. That would mean, of course, that the Pirates' magic number for a wild card spot would be down to one.
The Pirates are going to play in the wild card game. The only thing worth focusing on now is making sure that game is back at PNC Park.