PIRATES 4 – REDS 2
Win: A.J. Burnett (9-11)
Loss: Homer Bailey (11-11)
Save: Jason Grilli (31)
BURNETT HAS DOMINANT OUTING
After falling down two runs early in the game, A.J. Burnett (9-11, 3.39 ERA) took things over, pitching seven dominant innings and striking out a season-high 12 batters, while allowing just three walks in the Pittsburgh Pirates (89-66) 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds (88-67) on Saturday night to move a game ahead of the Reds for the No. 1 wildcard spot with seven games remaining.
“It’s a big game, it’s a big series and you want to attack,” Burnett said. “We were able to do that and get through seven somehow. I felt like I got stronger as it went on.”
What stood out with Burnett was how effective his curveball was which had players and coaches saying afterwards that Burnett’s command of his curveball was the best they have ever seen of him in a Pirates uniform.
“It was probably the best command of that hook I’ve had in a long time,” Burnett said of his “put away” pitch.
Burnett became the first Pirates right hander in franchise history to top 200 strikeouts in a season when he struck out Joey Votto in the 6th, and Burnett’s 203 strikeouts on the year are now a franchise record.
The Pirates and Reds are on a collision course for the play in game and the question in Pittsburgh is who starts the one game playoff, Burnett or Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.88 ERA)?.
Despite Burnett’s dominant outing against the Reds, I’m still going Liriano, especially if the game is at PNC Park.
Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA at PNC Park and 3-0 overall against the Reds this season. Lefties are hitting just .120/.167/.136 against Liriano. With Choo, Votto and Bruce among the Reds core hitters in the lineup, Liriano gives the Pirates the best matchup.
Liriano has been a different pitcher on the road and if the game is in Cincinnati, an argument could sway to Burnett, but Burnett has also been plagued by inconsistencies on the road. Burnett is 4-7 with a 4.50 ERA on the road and Liriano is 8-6 with a 4.15 ERA.
Down 2-0 in the 2nd inning, Russell Martin (.230 – 15 HR – 55 RBI) belted his 15th home run of the season to tie the game at two and then the Pirates broke the game open in the 6th.
Andrew McCutchen (.321 – 20 HR – 82 RBI) walked with one out, and then Justin Morneau walked, putting runners at first and third, and Marlon Byrd (.288 – 23 HR – 88 RBI) hit a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez (.229 – 34 HR – 94 RBI) added an insurance run with an opposite field RBI single off lefty Zach Duke, scoring Morneau, and the Pirates two-run cushion is all they needed.
Jose Tabata (.283 – 6 HR – 32 RBI) added two hits in the win.
GRILLI RACKS UP 31ST SAVE OF THE SEASON
So far, so good for Jason Grilli (2.79 ERA, 31 SV) who picked up his first save since July with a scoreless 9th inning. “I’m just a competitor,” Grilli said afterwards. “I want the ball. I want to participate.”
CARDINALS MAINTAIN TWO GAME LEAD
The St. Louis Cardinals (91-64) maintained their two game lead over the Pirates with a 7-2 win over the Brewers on Saturday. For the Pirates, the division was likely lost with the heartbreaking losses to the Padres and Reds this week. The Cards have won 12 of their last 17 games.