Man, this was a fun game to watch. The Pirates just lost a series to one of the worst teams in the league (although Miami has been playing better of late) and they were going to play five games against one of the best teams in all of baseball. All the Pirates did was come out and open up a can against that team and pick up a pretty important win.
Now, all wins are important and no matter who you beat the win counts the same. Before tonight the Cardinals were 1.5 games up on the Pirates and while a lot of people are talking this season up as "the biggest series in [insert something ridiculous]" I think it would be foolish to say this wasn't a big series to measure where you are as we get ready for down the stretch run. The Pirates could only win one game in this five game series and they would still be alright, but nobody wants to see that. What the Pirates did tonight was win that one game and set themselves up to try and pick up a series win and possibly lead the NL Central after these five games. They are still a half game back but picking up this first win was pretty big, especially with a double header tomorrow.
Francisco Liriano was just outstanding tonight. He started to lose it a little in the seventh inning but was able to gut that out to go seven strong, giving up only four hits and a run while striking out eight. The Cardinals didn't get their first hit until the fourth inning. His pitches were moving a lot and many of those eight strikeouts were on pitches that weren't even close to being in the zone. Allen Craig has been pretty outstanding all season and Liriano got him to strike out three times while Yadier Molina struck out twice when facing Frank. He is the best pitcher on this staff and while he can lose his control/focus from time-to-time he still give the Pirates an outstanding chance to win every single time he's on the bump.
A game can't be won in the first inning but you sure can put yourself in a great position to win it. The Pirates did that. Jake Westbrook has been pretty awful against the Pirates and he started the game by walking Jose Tabata, hitting Neil Walker, giving up a run scoring single to Andrew McCutchen, and then missing his spot by a good bit and giving up a three run bomb to Pedro Alvarez. 4-0 Pirates before an out was recorded. That is exactly how you come out of the gates in a big series like this.
Westbrook actually settled down (relatively speaking) as the game went on but he threw so many pitches that it really didn't matter. The Pirates actually were held at bay for a while despite getting a good bit of runners on base. It was the seventh inning that they finally put the game away with five runs on four hits with a Gaby Sanchez sacrifice fly (!!!!), Alex Presley single, a Clint Barmes double, and a Starling Marte pinch hit single. Everyone came to the party.
Some were questioning what Clint Hurdle was doing sitting Jordy Mercer for Barmes but Barmes has actually been hitting pretty well. Coming into the game he was hitting .279/.367/.349 with a 12% walk rate (!!!!). He has been good enough to be on the field and with good defense I think I have no problem with him getting more at bats even though Mercer has played really well this year. All Barmes did today was double twice and drive home two runs.
The Pirates went 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position and drove in four runs with two outs. Good stuff on that front.
Again, this game isn't the end all be all for the season in terms of these five games but this was a really good start for the Pirates.