Despite a bit of a rough patch over the last couple of weeks, the Pittsburgh Pirates are back on top of the NL Central standings.
Francisco Liriano continued his resurgence with 8 innings of shutout ball on Friday night, and in doing so, Liriano led the Pirates to a decisive 5-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. The left-hander allowed only 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 6 batters, and with the win, Liriano grabbed his 15th decision of the 2013 season.
Offensively, the Pirates took advantage of a massive day from first basemen Garrett Jones. Jones went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run, and he drove in 4 of the 5 runs that Pittsburgh generated. He has struggled a bit this season (.297 on-base percentage), but Jones could be a vital piece of the puzzle for the Pirates down the stretch, and a wake-up from him is encouraging.
Even with the performance of Jones, however, the star of the night was Liriano, and he’s been an absolute revelation in Pittsburgh. He was basically buried alive after back-to-back seasons where he had a 5.00-plus ERA, but in the National League, he now has a 2.57 ERA over 133 innings, and his strikeout “stuff” has returned to the tune of 9.14 strikeouts per 9 innings of work.
There is a long way to go in the NL Central race, but Pittsburgh isn’t going away, and this is pure evidence of that. The Cardinals and Pirates are now tied with a 78-56 record, but the Cincinnati Reds are also within striking distance, as they trail by only 3 games. It’s going to be a fun month of September.