Liriano was really, really good tonight. Fresh off his worst outing of the year against the Reds on Friday night he put up one of his better outings of the season tonight. The Pirates needed it. He started the game off with a four pitch walk to Nationals leadoff hitter Scott Hairston and then all he did was go in complete shutdown mode. he didn't allow a hit until the seventh inning and allowed only two hits on the night. He struck out eight batters, including Hairston with one out and a runner on second base in the eighth inning on a 3-2 slider that was in the bottom half and might have been his best pitch of the night. He did walk three batters but when you have the stuff he did tonight and only give up two hits that isn't too much of a concern. He utilized a pretty good change-up and continued his progression in peppering the zone with his slider rather than only being able to use it as an out pitch. His fastball has been really good as he hit 97 tonight on one of his fastballs and consistently sat around 94. I think a lot of people are waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of his performance but outside of his last start he has been nothing less than excellent so far. I admit that I get a little worried when he throws up a few walks here and there and temporarily loses control of his command but right now he is the staff ace.
The offense was once again pretty bad. It must be noted that the Nationals had Stephen Strasburg was on the bump and he was really good tonight despite some struggles this season. He has three plus pitches and isn't afraid to use any of them. The Pirates have always struggled with him as he has struck out 12 hitters or more four times in his career and he has struck out the Pirates 12 times or more three times. Strasburg made one mistake when he left a 97 mph fastball over the outer half and Pedro Alvarez made sure that he paid for it. That was in the second inning and while the Pirates only had one other hit in the game against Strasburg Liriano was able to make it stand until the Nationals had to go to the pen and that is when the Pirates cashed in some insurance.
The offense wasn't very good against Strasburg but they were able to scratch home a run (so to speak) and have a lead despite Strasburg pitching really well. Once Strasburg came out after eight innings the Pirates were able to get the insurance run they badly needed. The Pirates had two hits heading into the ninth inning and they got three in the ninth inning alone. The offense wasn't good tonight but they did enough and jumped on the pen when they finally got to it with three runs to all but put the game away.
Speaking of Alvarez, he just looks so much better. I think we are really seeing him evolve as a hitter. When he first came up he would have his hot and cold streaks but normally his cold streaks far outweighed his hot streaks. That hasn't been the case recently. It seems that his hot streaks have been getting longer and longer as he has evolved as a hitter and it is really good to see. Don't ask me how as Trib beat writer Travis Sawchik sent out this tweet after the home run:
Pedro Alvarez is walking less, striking out more, chasing more pitches out of zone ... but hitting more HRs this season vs. 2012— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) July 24, 2013
Whatever the case I don't care. You can try to rationalize what Alvarez is but I don't think anyone really knows. Since the middle of last season to now Pedro has had two really good, long streak and one bad streak (the start to this year) so you can say the he has been doing a lot more good than bad. As long as he keeps giving good at bats and working the entire field I must say that he has played really well this year.
So the Pirates won the series heading into the last game. A three game sweep is really tough to do which makes winning four straight games in a series really, really tough. The Pirates put themselves in that position tonight and a sweep of the Nats not only would propel the Pirates into a strong winning streak heading to Miami but it would really put the Nationals behind the eight-ball more than they already were. Finish them.