No. 1 starters in baseball get paid big money to win big games, keep streaks alive, and set the tone for an entire team. They also earn their keep by stopping losing streaks. The Pittsburgh Pirates need exactly that from ace Francisco Liriano today.
The Pirates need a dose of the old Liriano. The dominant left-hander who plowed through the opposition last season in becoming one of the elite starters in the game. At the moment that Liriano is missing, mired in an early season slump that has been typical of his career. At the moment Liriano is 0-3 on the season with an ERA of 4.22.
That is not going to cut it any longer. The Pirates need their ace to start acting like it again. They have lost four straight games and nine of their last eleven. Clint Hurdle’s team has now fallen 8.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and are in a free fall.
Hence the need for Liriano today. The Liriano of old. The problems for this team right now are bigger than the struggles of Liriano, their offense has been horrendous so far, but a win from their ace would stop a losing streak, revive morale and improve the outlook of a team on the brink of fading into the abyss.
Offensive Woes Continue:
Shelby Miller pitched 5.2 innings of shutout baseball and the bullpen followed suit as Cardinals blanked the Pirates 1-0 Friday night at Busch Stadium. Pittsburgh has scored just five runs in their last four games and have wasted two brilliant starts from Gerrit Cole.
Cole has pitched 15 innings and given up two runs in his last two trips to the mound. Eight of those innings were against the Brewers, the best team in baseball at the moment. The other seven were against St. Louis, the defending champions of the National League. Despite this the Pirates lost both games. There is no better way to frame the Pirates struggles at the moment than looking at Cole’s plight.
Hurdle admits things are not working for his team at the moment. The question is what can he do about it?
Perhaps nothing. What can you do when your best hitters are not hitting. Other than Andrew McCutchen there is not a Pirates everyday player hitting over .253. Starling Marte, recipient of a new six-year $31 million contract extension is hitting just .245 with one home run and three RBI. He has also struck out 35 times. He, like Cole, symbolizes the Pirates struggles better than anyone at the moment.
Which means maybe this falls at the feet of Pirates General Manager Neil Huntington who just received a three-year contract extension himself. He has built a good roster. A roster that nearly made it to the World Series last season. At the moment however this roster is not producing and Huntington has to fix it. Whether that happens through trade or bringing a new player up from the minor leagues is not really the issue as much as something has to happen to shake the Pirates out of their doldrums.
For now, Huntington, Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates are hoping Liriano can do it. The Liriano of old. The ace of the staff that stops losing streaks, raises hope and perhaps turn a season around.
Commentary by Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Pittsburgh Pirates