For as much struggle as the Pirates have had this week they put that all behind them, at least for one night. The Pirates were hurting in a big way offensively, especially with runners in scoring position, but they cranked out 12 hits and went 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position and in the third and fourth innings, when they scored all of their runs, they sent 16 men to the plate combined. Every starting hitter had at least one hit except for Gaby Sanchez who was productive regardless by having a pair of walks in his four plate appearances. Great night for the offense.
The offense might have overshadowed what was another outstanding outing by Francisco Liriano. When he was signed before the season the Pirates caught some flack for singing a guy that hasn't been good and while he could strike out a ton of guys he walked just as many. After breaking his non-throwing hand and missing the start of the season he has been nothing short of the staff ace he was with the Twins in 2010 when he anchored that rotation. In his 12 starts this year the Pirates have won nine of them and Liriano has posted nearly a two win season (via FanGraphs) while striking out over a batter per inning with a filthy slider. The slider, which he throws over 36% of the time, was unhittable last night. The A's managed five hits but when he wasn't striking them out he was generating weak contact. There was a small jam but he bared down and made the pitches he needed to. In past seasons he might have walked a few guy and gave up the back breaking hit, but not this year. At least not yet. This might be the staff ace right now despite what Jeff Locke has done.
The key to the Pirates offense last night? They struck out only six times and walked three times. The top three hitters (Starling Marte, Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen) combined to go 6-for-13 and in the first four innings of the game the Pirates hit .500 as a team (11-for-22). Sure they didn't hit late, but they didn't need to. When they had the chance to land a blow they did it and with some great starting pitching it held up.
I think watching Tabata this year has been pretty interesting. He was banged up for some time but after last night (when he had two hits) he is hitting .306/.369/.459 on the season. That comes with a small sample size (with only 123 plate appearances) but with Travis Snider not playing very well it is nice to have at least someone producing in the right field spot. I am not sure if Tabata can continue this since he is frequently injured but right now he looks healthy and we are starting to see the guy that people were talking about in spring training this year with a slimmed down figure and someone who looked like he was ready to put two bad years behind him.
The Pirates get the day off today before a three game series with the Mets to close out the first half of the season. The Pirates will not have to face Matt Harvey as he is going to skip his start that was supposed to be in this series so that is a good thing. After losing four straight they are back in the win column and are 1.5 games behind the Cardinals at 18 games over .500. Things are still pretty good despite the offensive struggles recently the the "sky is falling" attitude. Maybe this is reading too much into one game but the standings say the Pirates have been the better team 18 more times than the other team being better than them so maybe the four game losing streak was the outlier. Maybe. Maybe not. Who cares, the Pirates won.