Cards can't touch Liriano's slider ... again

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The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are now even in the NL Central race and the equalizer in that matchup has been Pirates starter Francisco Liriano.

Liriano is 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA and 0.63 WHIP in three starts against the Cardinals this season. He set a career-high by winning his 15th game against them Friday night, with eight scoreless, two-hit innings. He is the first Pirates lefty to win at least 15 games in a season since Zane Smith and John Smiley did so in 1991.

Liriano has held the Cardinals to a .127 batting average, matching their lowest batting average against any pitcher with three starts against them in a season since divisional play began in 1969 (they also hit .127 against Hideo Nomo in 1995)

Remember this past offseason when Liriano was unwanted by most. He’s proven to be one of the smartest investments of the winter. Let’s take a closer look at how he’s fared.

How He Beat the Cardinals

Liriano had his dominant slider working on Friday, just as he did against the Cardinals a month ago.

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano

#47 SP
Pittsburgh Pirates

2013 STATS

  • GM21
  • W15

  • L6

  • BB51

  • K135

  • ERA2.57

The Cardinals were 0-for-9 in at-bats ending with that pitch, including four strikeouts. Seven of those nine outs came with two strikes. The Cardinals were hitless in 11 two-strike at-bats against him.

Liriano did his best to keep the ball away from Cardinals hitters. They were 1-for-13 in at-bats that ended with a pitch on the outer-third of the plate or off the outside corner.

He’s thrown 102 sliders in the three starts against the Cardinals, netting 32 outs and yielding only four hits and one walk.

They’ve been equally feeble against his changeup, with one hit and 21 outs against that pitch this season.

Liriano has had lots of success with his changeup in the past, but this has been his best year with his slider, a pitch he’s throwing at about 87 mph, up a mile per hour from last season.

Most notably, he’s only given up seven extra-base hits (two homers) on the 728 he’s thrown this season.

In 2012, he allowed 15 extra-base hits (including six homers) with his slider, a rate of one about every 59 thrown.

Want to know how good Liriano’s slider was? The Cardinals had four hitters in their lineup with a .300 or better batting average. They made seven outs against the 15 sliders Liriano threw them.

Home sweet Home

Lowest Home ERA in 2013
Minimum 50 IP

Liriano has been ridiculously good at home this season. He’s 8-1 with a 1.21 ERA at PNC Park, with wins in his last six starts there.

The 1.21 ERA is the best of anyone who has thrown at least 50 innings in his home ballpark this season.

Liriano has allowed two earned runs in 35 innings in his last five starts at home.

Looking Ahead

The Cardinals can consider themselves fortunate that they should miss Liriano when these teams meet again in St. Louis next week. He thus won’t have a chance to become the first starting pitcher to beat the Cardinals four times in a season since Greg Maddux in 1992.

Instead, he’ll face the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. Liriano is 3-0 in his last four starts against the Brewers, including 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two starts against them this season.