Through the first 14 games of the season between the Pirates and Cardinals the Pirates have nine wins. Francisco Liriano has started in three of those games (including tonight) and in those three starts this is how it has gone:
That is what we call dominating a team. He did that again tonight. Frank went 8.0 innings giving up only two hits and struck out six while walking two. He had control of the entire game and outside of throwing around 25 pitches (give or take a few) in the first inning he was effective and got quick outs. Liriano has had some rough starts this season but he is an ace in baseball this year and a stopper after the Pirates had a really rough series against the Brewers. It's so nice to have guys like this.
Outside of Liriano this was all about Garrett Jones. Jones hasn't been very good this year for a number of reasons but tonight he stepped up in a big way. He had three hits tonight and drove in four runs. The hit he had in the first inning was probably the biggest of them all. The Pirates had runners on second and third with nobody out and Shelby Miller was able to strikeout Andrew McCutchen before striking out Marlon Byrd with the bases loaded and one out. Jones then doubled to right field with two outs to score a pair which would be all the Pirates needed.
Jones went on to homer to leadoff the fourth inning and then singled later in the game. Jones has had a brutal month of August only hitting .119 coming into the game. There are a number of reasons to describe Jones, some of it has to do with the lack of power this year and some of it has to do with just how unlucky he has been (.119 BABIP this month) but the fact remains he hasn't been good. Clint Hurdle sat him for three games to let him breathe and he came out and carried the offense today. It was really nice to see. The home run was Jones' 100th of his career so that was pretty cool.
Russell Martin homered after Jones did in the fourth inning to go back-to-back for third time this season to deep center. It was pretty awesome.
Jose Tabata and Neil Walker each had two hits on the night.
What might go under appreciated tonight was the play of Clint Barmes. Offensively Barmes went 0-for-4 on the night but he had an absolutely outstanding night defensively. It might not seem so because he makes it look so easy but his defense is what makes him so valuable to the Pirates. I don't think Barmes is as good defensively as he was last season (by just the eye test) but he made some really nice plays tonight that I don't think Jordy Mercer makes. Don't take that the wrong way, I think Mercer is underrated defensively but he doesn't bring to the table what Barmes does.
I talked about Liriano and his start above but I think what gets lost in what he has done this season is the work of the Pirates coaching staff to get him right. Last season he had a 5+ ERA and was walking five hitters per nine innings but this year he has cut both of those stats by a lot. It came down to a tweak he made in spring training in his delivery and I am sure the Pirates coaching staff had something to do with that. When you hear about Liriano nobody seems to bring this up but I believe they deserve just as much praise as Liriano does for this performance. If this is 2011 or 2012 Liriano I don't think the Pirates are this good. It was a small change that will largely go unnoticed but it turned him into a pitcher who couldn't find the strike zone for large stretches to a guy who is one of the best in the game. The Pirates are good at doing this stuff and people need to start talking about it.
Big win to open the series. I think coming in the thought of not getting swept was big and to win the first game of the series really sets it up nicely going forward. It won't be easy and I don't think we can expect a sweep but just winning one of the next two and staying square with the Cards after this series is huge going forward while they try to win the NL Central.