We have, rightly, put a lot of focus this season on the failings of the back end of the Pirate rotation. Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, and Juan Nicasio have all had really bad seasons for the Pirates, and in doing so they’ve put a lot of stress on both the offense and the bullpen. That certainly contributed a lot to the Pirates’ awful June. I have suspected for a while, though, that the Pirates’ lack of a top of their rotation is almost as responsible. Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano were supposed to be able to lend some sort of stability to the top of the rotation in the first part of the season while the Pirates slowly sorted the bottom out, but instead Cole has been injured and Liriano has reverted to his pre-Pirate form.
That means that Liriano’s dominant performance last night — 6 2/3 innings, 3 runs (2 earned), 4 hits, 13 strikeouts, 0 walks (!) — is probably almost as important to the second half Pirates as Jameson Taillon’s return from both his shoulder fatigue and the line drive off of his head. For the first time in a long while, Liriano looked dominant. He threw enough fastballs for strikes (23 of 45), that the Brewers flailed at his slider (36 sliders, 20 swings, nine whiffs) and his changeup (22 changes, 15 swings, six whiffs). I don’t honestly know what the difference was between this start and the last one where he walked four Nationals in six innings; he actually threw more fastballs for strikes in that game, but he got fewer swings on his slider. That would indicate that either he located his slider better last night, or that the Brewers are terrible. Either is a distinct possiblity, of course, but a 13 K/0 BB night is pretty extreme, and so I’ll choose to believe that Liriano had at least something to do with it, and that it’s a sign that maybe his season is finally moving in the right direction.
Most of the offense came from one swing of Matt Joyce’s bat in the first inning last night that sent a Matt Garza meatball into the right field stands after back-to-back walks to Polanco and McCutchen. I suppose you could take issue with the Pirates not dinging Garza for more runs, since he wasn’t all that impressive last night, but I’ll take solace in the Pirates grabbing a 3-0 first inning lead with Liriano on the mound, and never looking back. The Pirates should be able to win games like that, and it’s nice that Liriano gave them one last night.
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