The Pittsburgh Pirates had a statement to make to the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of Major League Baseball this week: they belong on top.
Pittsburgh was faced with their biggest challenge thus far, as they played eight games in seven days. During that stretch the Pirates went 6-2 and dominated the Cardinals. They came into the series trailing by 1 1/2 games in the NL Central race, and Pittsburgh had a 1 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals when the series was over.
Pittsburgh took the first four games against St. Louis including the sweep of the double header. During those games the Pirates experienced good starting pitching, clutch defensive plays, the bats came to life and the bullpen continued to work their magic.
St. Louis did manage to upend the Pirates 13-0 in the finale, but the Buccos bounced back against the Rockies with wins on Saturday and Sunday.
Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett both pitched stellar games against the Rockies.
Liriano once again gave the Pirates everything he had in a 5-2 win over the Rockies. He lowered his ERA to 2.02, which is second in the National League. Unfortunately he has not thrown enough innings to be considered a statistical league leader.
Burnett backed Liriano’s performance with a gem of his own. The 36-year-old veteran pitched his best game of the season on Sunday. He went nine innings and gave up one run on eight hits while fanning nine.
“A.J.’s best game of the season. Best stuff, best command,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Focus, rhythm, tempo. Pitch efficiency: 26 of 33 first-pitch strikes.”
For the Pirates to continue this torrid tear they will need Burnett and Liriano to be strong and healthy coming down the stretch. Both contribute greatly to the team. Liriano is the best pitcher on the staff, especially the second half. Burnett is the true leader of the Pirates.
Over the last few months people have questioned the Pirates offense, but their were no questions this past week. Everyone contributed and played a role in the take over of the NL Central. They scored 22 runs alone in the series against the Cardinals.
Alex Presley came through with some big hits, including the game winning RBI single in extra innings during game one of the double header against the Cardinals. Jose Tabata went 3-for-4 and finished Saturday night a double short of hitting for the cycle.
The Pirates have reached the top and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The collapse of the last two seasons lingers but there is no evidence of one anytime soon. Everything from pitching to hitting is going strong for the Pirates right now.