The spectacle of Opening Day often tends to supersede the game itself. Awards are given, the National anthem is sung, and people speak with more hyperbole than Donald Trump at a wall-builders union meeting. When it comes down to it, though, this game was important (and not because every game is important). Lots of chatter about the Pirates has been about them not getting a slow start, but more important than that is the intradivisional games, especially against the other NL Central contenders. I don't need to remind you that the Pirates finished two games behind the Cards last season and went 34-42 against the NL Central.
Liriano was the story early, getting the first RBI of the MLB season (according to Baseball Reference, this is the first time since 1973 that’s happened) and fanning ten in his six innings but also walking five. That’s still good for a game score of 71, a gem by the Bill James classification. Early in the game, Liriano seemed like he had complete control, painting the corners and getting lots of swings and misses out of the zone. He started to lose that control later (and it was pretty cold today at PNC so that’s not totally surprising) and got into two bases loaded jams in the fourth and sixth, but got out of both thanks to a little help from Kolten Wong in both cases and some nice defense from David Freese in the latter.
The offense got things going pretty well throughout the day, too, having runners in scoring position in five out of their eight innings at the plate. Cervelli banged a triple to the notch and had two hits, as did David Freese and the newly extended Gregory Polanco (more on that coming later). Jordy Mercer had a double to add a fourth run (after embarrassingly missing a bunt attempt on a fastball on a suicide squeeze play), and the game was in hand from there.
Two major takeaways for me are David Freese and Gregory Polanco. Freese played some brilliant defense at third; the tough hop on the bases-loaded grounder in the sixth was a particularly underrated play and I think really put them in a position to win the game. Freese’s two hits were also a nice contribution and two months from now, we may be saying he was one of the absolute steals of the offseason. Polanco had two hits as well; if he has a strong season, that’s going to go a long way toward helping the Pirates win the division. One other minor point is that the Pirates went to left-handed Tony Watson in the seventh, rather than the eighth, because three lefties were coming to bat. He retired them in short order; this type of bullpen usage is something to watch throughout the season.
All in all, this was a great start to the season for the Bucs, getting a win over a division rival and getting contributions from a few of the role players on the team, along with a stellar outing from Francisco Liriano. Next game is Tuesday night against the same Cardinals we saw today, with Jon Niese in his first start as a Bucco facing off against Michael Wacha.