We aren't quite to the point where we can call a Pirate game a "must-win" game yet, but we're getting awfully close. The Pirates have lost four games in a row now, their lead over the Cardinals has shrunk to two games, and the Reds are just 1 1/2 back of the Cardinals. The Pirates' last two losses have been particularly maddening for a whole number of reasons that I just don't want to get into at this point. You know them and I know them.
If you, like me, believe that this Pirate team is better situated to play well though the end of the season than the doomed Pirate teams of 2011 and 2012, then you probably think that the reason that they could do so is directly related to a pitching staff that is capable of pitching well through game 162 and hopefully beyond. One of the main things that makes this pitching staff different from Pirate staffs of the past is Francisco Liriano. By a happy coincidence, Francisco Liriano is taking the mound against the Cardinals tonight.
Liriano is coming off of his worst start against the Pirates in Coors Field last Friday. He's made a few of these starts in "stopper situations" before this year, and, as Tim pointed out earlier today, he's been excellent in them. He started against the Cardinals in the first game of the five-game set, and he was excellent. In seven innings, he struck out eight, walked two, and only allowed one run on four hits. The Pirates need that Francisco Liriano at Busch Stadium tonight. Shelby Miller goes for the Cardinals. He didn't pitch in the PNC series, though the Pirates had some luck against him earlier this year. This is his first start since taking a line drive off of his elbow against the Dodgers last week.
The first pitch tonight is at 8:15. It will be nationally broadcast on ESPN.