The Cardinals' biggest concern Saturday night, however, might be the man they'll see on the mound.After picking up right where he left off in a stellar debut, Francisco Liriano looks to prove his 2013 dominance of the Cardinals was no fluke as this series continues at PNC Park.Liriano was among the biggest reasons for Pittsburgh's 15-win improvement last season, becoming one of baseball's most dominant left-handed starters. It looked like more of the same Monday, when he gave up four hits and three walks while striking out 10 in six innings of a 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs in 10."You come in expecting him to be typical Liriano, and that's what he was," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told the Pirates' official website. "He's one of the best in the game."St. Louis (2-2) doesn't need a reminder. Liriano went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA against the Cardinals in three regular-season starts, then held them to two runs over six innings in Game 3 of the NL division series as Pittsburgh went on to win 5-3.Allen Craig and Yadier Molina went a combined 0 for 18 with seven strikeouts against Liriano in 2013.Three of his starts against the Cardinals came at PNC, where Liriano is 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 14 starts in a Pirates uniform.He got 5.82 runs of support per nine innings at home last season before getting none Monday, but Pittsburgh's offense came alive in a big way Friday after totaling seven runs in its opening series. Pedro Alvarez homered twice, Travis Ishikawa went deep for the first time with his new team and the Pirates scored nine times after the fifth inning in a 12-2 rout.As impressive as the Pirates (3-1) were at the plate Friday, they'll also be running into a pitcher that largely had their number a year ago. Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69) held Pittsburgh to two runs over 18 innings while winning all three regular-season starts, though he allowed nine baserunners and three runs over 5 1/3 in Game 3 of the NLDS.Still, he had to beat out Carlos Martinez in the spring to keep the fifth starter spot. Kelly walked eight over 14 1/3 innings and posted a 6.28 ERA, but manager Mike Matheny was sufficiently impressed."You can't deny what Joe did toward the end of last year," Matheny told the team's official website. "You can't deny how good he has been this spring. ... I think there are better things ahead for Joe Kelly, too."Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin were a combined 6 for 13 with six walks against Kelly last season, while Neil Walker and Alvarez combined to go 4 for 26.Alvarez, however, has had plenty of success against the Cardinals. Since Game 1 of the NLDS, he is 8 for 21 with five homers versus St. Louis.Molina, meanwhile, has just three singles in his last 32 at-bats in Pittsburgh. Matt Carpenter went 2 for 3 with a two-run homer Friday after going 8 for 57 (.140) in his first 17 games at PNC.
St. Louis Cardinals hitters compiled a .177 average in at-bats to end in sliders from left-handed pitchers last season, sixth-lowest in the league. Francisco Liriano allowed a .143 average against his slider last year, throwing the pitch 36 percent of the time, the fourth-highest percentage among pitchers with at least 20 starts.