Rather than re-hashing the same old same old “The Pirates need Francisco Liriano back on track to contend” that gets trotted out every time he starts, let’s take a minute a check out his Brooks Baseball page to see if the narrative that he’s looked better since his return from the disabled list except for his control checks out.
If we’re just going by pitch velocities, I’m not sure that it does. It’s surely true that Liriano’s fastball was below-par in April, but his average fastball got back up to the 93-95 range before April ended and it’s stayed there ever since. In fact, his velocity was better in his last start before his injury than it’s been in the two starts since then. In Jonah Keri’s excellent look at the NL Central race today, he mentions that Liriano’s slider velocity isn’t the same this year as it was last year, and that’s true both pre-and-post-DL-stint. Since coming off of the disabled list, Liriano’s had some good innings and some bad innings, which means that he’s teetered between being effective and ineffective. In short, absolutely nothing has changed. If you, like me, were hoping that he had some kind of lingering problem other than his strained oblique that the DL stint would clear up, there’s absolutely no evidence thus far that that’s happened.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t think Liriano can be an effective pitcher down the stretch; just that I think that any and all sentences that begin with “If Liriano can get back to his 2013 form” should be abrogated. Unless something changes with the slider in his next few starts, it’s really unlikely that he’s going to be anything approaching an ace down the stretch. I think that the Pirates need one more good starter to tip the balance in the next two months. I don’t think Francisco Liriano is going to be that starter. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong.
The good news is that he’ll get to face the Dodgers without Puig and Ramirez and the Dodgers are sending the eminently hittable Dan Haren to the mound. The Brewers beat the Reds again, which means the Reds have lost six straight. A win today would mean that the Pirates flip five games on the Reds in the first week out of the All-Star Break and, depending on the outcome of the Braves’ and Reds’ games, it could tie them for the second wild card. Every game is important.
First pitch tonight is at 7:05.