CINCINNATI -- As the calendar turned to September, speculation started about Gerrit Cole's possible postseason role with the Pirates -- if any. The possibilities of being sent to the bullpen or left off the roster altogether both seemed more likely than the rookie staying in the rotation.
But Cole, who was 6-7 with an ERA of 3.60 through August, tore up options Nos. 1-2 with a 4-0, 1.69 September. Furthermore, after having pitched to contact (61 strikeouts in 75 innings), he has turned on the firepower in September (39 whiffs in 32 innings).
A conscious campaign to pitch himself into that postseason rotation?
"As games became more important, subconsciously your focus heightens. It's just the way it happened, what the atmosphere created," said Cole, pointing out that he'd been told "pretty early that they'd like me to start in the postseason. Before, I'd been told that if I didn't start, it would be only an innings thing.
"I wouldn't have minded if I went to the bullpen ... I still won't mind if I go now. I just want to help out wherever I'm best suited. At this point, it's not about numbers of accomplishments; it's about trying to get as deep [into the postseason] as you can."
That first postseason step could be up to Cole. He will start Sunday's regular-season finale if that game still has to determine home field for Tuesday's Wild Card Game with the Reds. If not, he becomes a fall-back option to pitch in that playoff game, according to manager Clint Hurdle.
Looking ahead to Sunday's potentially pivotal start, Cole said, "That would be fun. It could be cool. It would be especially exciting to get the ball that day."
• Postseason home-field advantage? Last October, home teams went 7-12 in National League playoff series -- including the loss by Wild Card host Atlanta.
In the Division Series era (since 1995), home teams in NL win-or-go home games stand 5-9. The most surprising aspect of that stat, actually, is that of 54 series, only 14 went down to a decisive game.
• Hurdle said he and his staff had drawn up three possible starting rotations for this season-ending three-game series, and settled on A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton and, if needed, Cole.
• Starling Marte is the third Pirates player ever with more than 25 doubles (he has 26), 10 triples, 12 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season. Most impressively, the two predecessors played in a bygone era: Jake Stenzel in 1894 and Kiki Cuyler in 1925.
First number, last word
19-23 and 20-27: Pirates' all-time record in postseason games at home and on the road, respectively.
"It would be something that hasn't happened in a long time. It would be awesome. But we don't want to put any extra pressure on ourselves, just go play our normal game."
-- Pittsburgh's and the Pirates' Neil Walker, on the prospects of postseason baseball coming to PNC Park.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.