In danger of losing sole possession of first place in the NL Central and with a tired bullpen, the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates could sorely use another dominant outing from Francisco Liriano.
Liriano will try to deliver a much-needed victory Monday night as the Pirates open a seven-game West Coast trip with the first of three against the San Diego Padres.The Pirates (72-51) had a four-game lead over St. Louis after winning their fifth in a row Aug. 8 but that advantage is down to one game after seven losses in the last nine contests. They blew an early two-run lead in a 4-2 loss in 16 innings to Arizona on Sunday after a 15-5 drubbing a day earlier.It was the third extra-inning game in six days for Pittsburgh, which has played 69 innings over that stretch."We need to keep grinding it out and keep playing hard. We've played a lot of innings, so it's taxing us a little bit," second baseman Neil Walker said.Liriano (13-5, 2.68 ERA) led Pittsburgh to one of its rare recent wins by tossing a four-hitter Wednesday. That 5-1 victory in St. Louis followed a dreadful outing at Colorado on Aug. 9 in which he gave up a career-high 10 runs and 12 hits in 2 1/3 innings."That was the mulligan," manager Clint Hurdle said. "What we've seen all year, he's just given us chances to win. He's pitched deep into games. He's mixed pitches. He's really been in command when runners get on base."Liriano allowed three runs over seven innings in his only start against the Padres on June 19, 2011, with Minnesota. This time, he'll face a team that's seeking its third straight win since a 2-8 stretch.San Diego nearly dropped another one Sunday as it trailed the Mets by a run after the seventh inning. Chris Denorfia, though, hit a tying infield single in the eighth and Will Venable homered to lead off the ninth.Venable went 2 for 5 to extend his major league-best hit streak to 15 games. He's batting .377 during that career-best run and is hitting .469 in his last nine games against the Pirates."Will's amazing with the way he has been swinging," pitcher Eric Stults said. "It's not only swinging the bat but it's his defensive play and stealing bases. He's doing everything. He's playing like a five-tool player. When he comes to bat, we're expecting him to do something and (Sunday) he did."He went 7 for 12 with three doubles and three RBIs during a three-game home sweep of Pittsburgh last Aug. 20-22. San Diego (56-68) has won 18 of 21 over the Pirates and seven of nine at home.Andrew Cashner (8-7, 3.87) will try to deliver another victory in his first start against Pittsburgh. Cashner has given up three earned runs in each of his last two starts, including a 4-2 defeat in Colorado on Wednesday, but has received a combined three runs of support while losing both after getting 20 during a three-game win streak.Cashner has a 2.50 ERA in eight home starts as opposed to a 4.97 mark away from Petco Park.Clint Barmes is hitting .344 in his last eight games against San Diego while Andrew McCutchen is batting .158 in his last 15 matchups. McCutchen is a career .143 hitter with a .393 OPS in his nine games in San Diego, easily his worst performance in any NL ballpark.