By Matt Popchock

CINCINNATI (93-7 THE FAN) — Before Saturday’s pivotal game against the Reds at Great American Ball Park, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle announced the setup for his pitching rotation when they begin the MLB postseason Tuesday.

Francisco Liriano will start for the Bucs in the National League Wild Card Game against visiting Cincinnati on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, as first reported by Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette. A.J. Burnett will pitch the first game of the National League Division Series, should the Pirates advance.

Liriano is coming off a 4-2 loss to the Cubs that set the table for the St. Louis Cardinals to wrap up the Central Division title with a decisive victory over Chicago at Busch Stadium Friday. A prime candidate for NL Comeback Player of the Year, the 29-year-old lefty found his old form after injury woes forced him out of Minnesota, and he finished with a 16-8 record, 3.02 ERA, and 1.22 WHIP in 161 innings.

Following the All-Star Break he went 7-5 with a 3.95 ERA in 14 appearances. He posted some of his best performances of the regular season in that span, including a few masterful wins over St. Louis, and recently, eight solid innings against the Reds at PNC Park Sept. 20.

Most importantly, though, the Pirates, with their 8-3 win over the Reds today, have given him another opportunity to pitch back home at pitcher-friendly PNC Park, where Liriano has been lights-out. He is 8-1 on the North Shore this year with a 1.47 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, plus a 2.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72 2/3 innings.

He’s 3-0 at home with a pair of no-decisions since the All-Star Break, with quality starts in four of those five games.

He’ll try to rewrite a script that has him 0-3 against the Reds this year, counting that last ill-fated meeting, despite an impressive 1.11 WHIP and just ten walks against 28 strikeouts in those games.

Liriano has no decisions in two career playoff games–both as a member of the Twins–with a 5.87 ERA in 7 2/3 innings.

With rumored starter Mat Latos fatigued, according to Reds manager Dusty Baker, Cincinnati will instead counter with noted Pirate-killer Johnny Cueto on Tuesday, the Post-Gazette also reports.

Cueto is 13-4 lifetime against the Bucs with a 2.70 ERA. At PNC Park he has been equally, if not more, dominant, with an 8-2 record and 1.90 ERA all-time.

This season he’s gone 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA and 1.06 WHIP through 60 2/3 innings in 11 appearances, including a 1-1 record against the Pirates.

He threw a one-hit, eight-inning shutout at PNC Park May 31 and suffered a 3-1 loss to the Bucs at Great American Ball Park Apr. 13 in which he left in the fifth inning with strained right triceps.

Cueto, after that, did not pitch again until May 20. The 27-year-old righty continued to suffer right arm issues and was placed on the 15-day disabled list for a third time this season on June 29 before returning to action Sept. 16.

He is 0-1 in two career playoff games with a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 innings.

Fans, as they hang on every pitch Tuesday, will hold out hope that Friday night was not the last hurrah for Burnett. The 36-year-old righty is entering free agency, and speculation about his retirement is rampant, though he has not commented on the matter.

Burnett, earlier this season a victim of poor run support, improved to 10-11 on the campaign Friday by going eight innings and scattering five hits, while fanning six, to stifle the Reds.

He has posted a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings, along with a 1.22 WHIP and 3.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Like Liriano, he has fared a little bit better at home in 2013, going 5-4 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He’s been his old warrior-like self lately, winning four of his last six with 43 K’s and just 11 walks in that span.

Should the Pirates beat the Reds at PNC Park Tuesday, they would begin the best-of-five NLDS at either St. Louis or East Division champion Atlanta Thursday. The Pirates would host Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 4 Sun., Oct. 6 and Mon., Oct. 7, respectively.

Burnett is 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA against the Cards this year, whereas the Braves roughed him up through five innings in their only meeting, a 7-2 loss at Turner Field June 3.

If the Cardinals and Braves both finish with 96 wins, the Braves, by virtue of winning that particular season series, would see the Pirates-Reds winner.

Burnett, with the New York Yankees, was a career 2-2 playoff pitcher, with a 5.08 ERA, striking out 38 and walking 23.

Stay tuned to 93.7 The Fan, your flagship home of Pirates playoff baseball, for the latest.


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