Imagine, for one second, that the Pittsburgh Pirates do manage to pull themselves together in such a fashion over the next five weeks that they make the playoffs. If they do this, the most likely outcome is that they will play the St. Louis Cardinals in the one-game playoff. So where do you, a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, want that game to be?
That’s what’s on the line at PNC Park this week, as the Pirates play the Cardinals three times for what might be the last time at home in 2014. The Cardinals are 3 1/2 games up on the Pirates and sitting precariously in the NL’s first wild card spot. The best way for the Pirates to change that would be to beat the Cardinals two or three times this week. Given the circumstances between the Bucs and Cards right now, this series is arguably bigger than the weekend series the Pirates just finished up in Milwaukee.
Francisco Liriano starts for the Pirates. His first few starts after the All-Star Break were very promising, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent recently, veering from dominant to ineffective inside of the span of mere innings. His last start was terrible; the Braves obliterated him for 10 hits and nine runs (seven earned) in just four innings. He’s walked seven hitters over 10 innings in his last two starts. Basically, I’m worried about Liriano’s ability to be effective enough to win a game for the Pirates against a good team right now.
He’ll face John Lackey, who has not looked great in four starts with the Cardinals since moving to the National League at the trade deadline. His most recent start against the Reds (six innings, four hits, four runs-but-only-two-earned, seven strikeouts, one walk) was probably his most effective, though, and four starts isn’t much of anything to work with.
The Brewers and Giants both play late games tonight (against the Padres and Rockies, respectively), and the Braves are off. The Pirates have certainly looked better over the last five days, but it won’t mean much of anything if they lay an egg in this series. First pitch tonight is at 7:05.