Colin Dunlap: Pirates Hinge On Liriano
Takes a team, certainly.
Yep — it takes every single guy in baseball. All the way from your top-of-the-rotation ace to that 25th man who might get an at-bat here and there, or play an inning at the end of games as a defensive substitute.
But for the Pittsburgh Pirates (49-46) as they begin the ceremonial second half of the season in fourth place in the National League Central, it feels to me as if everything could very well come down to one man — left-handed starter Francisco Liriano.
That is to say, if Frankie gets it together, they have a shot.
If Frankie continues to flounder, I really can’t see the Pirates making a serious continued run in the division race in which they are currently 3.5 games behind division-leading Milwaukee.
Is that too much to put on one guy? Maybe.
Do I strongly feel as if Liriano is that swing player who has the ability (through playing very good or very bad) to make a huge difference in how this season all ends for the Pirates?
You see, the Pirates have traversed all the way through 95 games with the man who came into this season as their undeniable ace — and opening day starter — nailing down just one win, spending time on the disabled list and pitching his way to a 4.72 ERA. It took until the final few days of May for Liriano to notch his first — and only — victory of the season to date.
That’s all a far cry from the performance he put forth last season, when the lefty ripped through hitters, won 16 games as he posted a 3.02 ERA and struck out 163 batters in two fewer innings.
In a way, the patchwork with which the Pirates’ staff has been able to help thrust this team to a better-than-.500 record without their ace doing much of anything is to be commended. There’s no question much slack has been picked up where many envisioned Liriano would be the man holding such slack.
But there’s also another way to look at it: How long can this rotation, without Liriano giving much in the way of help, continue to keep it all together to the point of staying in a race? For me, that’s the focus — and that’s why it is positively on him, more than anyone else on this club, to perform up to capabilities if the Pirates want to get anywhere near matching what happened last season when they hit 94 wins and reached the postseason for the first time since 1992.
Seems Clint Hurdle is just as curious as to what Liriano will give him, as the manager has recalibrated the rotation so that Liriano — coming off starting the last game of the first half — will get the ball again tonight to open up the second half of the season.
As Liriano heads out there tonight against the Rockies, keep a keen eye on him. This is the player who, at least from this view, will be the biggest determining factor on whether or not the Pirates play meaningful baseball as the season keeps inching toward the postseason.