Before we get started, there are two really good reads about the Pirates’ early-season struggles that were published at national websites today that I think you should take a look at. The first is Mike Petriello’s long look at the Pirates’ mammoth pitching issues at FanGraphs and the second is Jonah Keri’s “how did the Pirates get from where they were in October to where they are right now” piece at Grantland. You should really take the time to read all of both of them.
The larger question facing the Pirates at the moment is this: they’ve played well enough in the last two weeks to re-insert themselves into the pack of teams vying (at least) for the National League Wild Card, but most peripherals seem to indicate that the Pirates are currently not much better than their 28-30 record. The two NL Wild Card teams are going to be teams that play well enough over the next 100 games to separate from the large pack of NL clubs clustered around .500 right now, and there’s precious little that we’ve seen of the Pirates to this point in the season to indicate that we should expect them to be one of those teams. That’s not to say that this group of players can’t do it, it’s to say that if they’re going to do it they’re going to have to play differently than they have over the season’s first 58 games, and that includes the last 14 games in which they’ve looked better.
I suspect that if the Pirates are going to do this, they’re going to do it by bludgeoning their opponents to death offensively. As per the FanGraphs piece linked above, they’ve currently got about the same wRC+ as last year’s Pirates, and that’s with Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer underachieving and Gregory Polanco still stuck in Triple-A. A Pittsburgh Pirate team with Andrew McCutchen on base all the time, Neil Walker’s newfound power, Alvarez and Marte clicking at 2013 rates, and Gregory Polanco in the mix could be a wonderful thing to behold. There would still be issues with the rotation, but they’d be minimized by the return of the Lumber Company.
Anyway, this is all a lead-in to say that even if that happens, the Pirates’ rotation has to improve and one of the spots it has to improve is in Francisco Liriano’s rotation spot. His velocity is mostly back to where it was last year and two of his last four starts have looked excellent, but the Pirates need some form of consistency out of the pitcher that was their ace last year. This Padres’ lineup is totally punchless, and so I think this would be a good place for Liriano to make back-to-back solid starts for the first time this year. Simply put, regardless of whether the Pirates “need” a sweep or not to make make this a successful series/West Coast swing/road trip, the Padres are a bad team that’s playing bad baseball right now and the Pirates have to beat bad teams to continue making progress in the playoff race.
The first pitch tonight is at 6:40.