It was all smiles for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night as the Bucs put a five-spot on Carlos Rodon and the Chicago White Sox in the very first inning. The Pirates would end up manhandling Chicago pitching for a whopping 18 hits and 11 runs on their way to their 5th win in a row. Despite four-hit performances by both Josh Harrison and Starling Marte, the real star of the night was Francisco Liriano.
Liriano struck out 12 White Sox and walked just one in eight innings of work. Chicago was only able to muster two hits against the 31-year-old. As good as A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole have been this year (one and two in ERA in the National League) one could argue that the Pirates will only go as far as Liriano takes them.
The lefty has experienced a resurgence this year. After failing to make it past the second inning versus the Twins on May 19th, Liriano has had a shutdown 1.29 ERA. with only six walks allowed in the five-game stretch. If the season were to end today, Liriano would have his lowest ERA since his 2006 All-Star campaign. There is still a long way to go, but the Pirates are poised to do some damage in the playoffs if Liriano keeps this performance up.
Despite his age, Liriano’s fastball is still averaging 92.3 MPH this year. Coupled with an 84 MPH change and slider, these three pitches have been wreaking havoc on opposing pitchers when placed properly. The key moving forward will be control. Liriano’s walk rate is the lowest it’s been in five years. His 0.96 WHIP is good for third best in the National League.
With the St. Louis Cardinals suffering injuries left and right this may be the Pirates’ opportunity to make their push. Despite a 36-27 record the Bucs are still six games behind the N.L. Central-leading Cards. In their rear-view mirror are the Chicago Cubs who are just a game behind Pittsburgh. With the trade deadline around the corner things are bound to heat up.