Tonight the Pittsburgh Pirates will send Francsico Liriano to the mound against the Atlanta Braves, and the Pirates need Liriano to give them a gem.
The good news is that the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken the first two games of their four game series with the Atlanta Braves. The bad news is that their bullpen has taken a beating in the process. Despite jumping out to an 8-2 lead on Monday night and a 9-0 lead last night, the Pirates have still needed to use each of their seven relievers at least once in those two victories.
This has partly been due to starters struggling to hold big leads, see Juan Nicasio last night, and partly due to relievers struggling to do the same, see Cory Luebke Monday night and Ryan Vogelsong/Arquimedes Caminero last night. Regardless, the Pirate bullpen needs rest tonight and that is up to Francisco Liriano.
Neftali Feliz has pitched in each of the last two games and could be unavailable tonight, and closer Mark Melancon will undoubtedly be unavailable after having pitched in three straight games. That is two of the Pirates four reliable relievers. Also, guys like Arquimedes Caminero and Cory Luebke are not pitchers who want on the mound in a close game right now. So, Franky, the pressure is on.
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Also adding to the Pirate bullpen woes is that the team is currently in game six of ten straight, and game six of 23 games in 24 days stretch. So the bullpen is in no position to be getting taxed, worn out, and overused each night. Not that a bullpen is ever in that position.
So far this season Francisco Liriano has been very up and down for the Pirates. Liriano has had some really good starts, a pair of really bad starts, and a few that have fallen in between. All of this comes out to Francisco Liriano have a 4.99 ERA, 5.30 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, and a National League leading 23 walks issued in 39 2/3 innings pitched. However, Liriano’s strike out numbers are as strong as ever averaging 10.44 K/9 which is the third highest total of his career.
Prior to his last start against the Cubs, in which he got hammered for eight runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings pitched, Francisco Liriano had been on a good roll for the Pirates. In his previous three starts Liriano had pitched 19 2/3 innings surrendering just seven runs ( a 3.20 ERA) on 15 hits, five walks, two home runs, and 22 strike outs. Also, Liriano’s 3.11 FIP and 3.23 xFIP supported that he had been pitching much better in these three games and the Pirates were 3-0 in these games.
Ultimately, I am not worried about Francisco Liriano and expect him to pitch a good game for the Pirates tonight. His last start against the Cubs was a train wreck, yes, however all eight of the home runs he allowed came via the home run ball. Prior to that start, he had only allowed four home runs all season. Also, he was pitching at Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out.
It may not seem like it due to the fact they have scored a combined 14 runs in the first two games of this series, but the Atlanta Braves are an abysmal offensive team. Atlanta ranks dead last in all of baseball in runs scored (123), slugging percentage (.313), they are 28th in batting average (.233), and 27th in on base percentage (.297).
The Braves are extra bad against left-handed pitching as their .211 batting average, .268 on base percentage, .276 slugging percentage, and .543 on base plus slugging (OPS) all rank dead last in the Major Leagues against left-handed pitching. The Braves have also struck out in a whopping 28 percent of their at bats against left-handed pitching this season.
When you combine the Atlanta Braves struggles against left-handed pitching, with how great a pitcher’s park PNC Park is for left-handed pitchers, and that when he is on Francisco Liriano is as un-hittable as any left-handed pitcher in the game not named Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale, I fully expect him to have a strong outing against the Braves tonight. And that is very good for the Pirates, because they need a gem out of Francisco Liriano tonight.
Any Pirate fan knows that Francisco Liriano is better than his overall numbers indicate this season. I still expect Liriano to continuing to be a reliable starting pitcher for the Pirates, and for him to finish the season with strong overall numbers. And I think that all begins tonight with a dominant outing against the Atlanta Braves.