The Pirates are heading to their first-ever NLDS.
Francisco Liriano allowed just one run on four hits in seven innings and Russell Martin homered twice as the Bucs cruised to a 6-2 victory over the visiting Reds in the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night at a sold-out and rowdy PNC Park.
Liriano had everything working — especially his changeup and slider — and used an aggressive approach to carve his way through the Reds’ lefty-heavy lineup. Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce — all left-handed hitters — went a combined 1-for-8 with four strikeouts against Pittsburgh’s ace southpaw. Liriano needed only 90 pitches, 64 of which went for strikes.
Martin was the big offensive star, but the Pirates got contributions from players up and down their starting lineup. Andrew McCutchen reached base in four of his five plate appearances and Neil Walker, Marlon Byrd and Pedro Alvarez all produced RBI. Jason Grilli closed it out with a perfect top-of-the-ninth.
The Pirates — who last reached the postseason in 1992, when the Division Series did not exist — will open their best-of-five showdown with the Cardinals in St. Louis on Thursday evening. The Cardinals will want to take both of those first two home games because the crowd at PNC Park can be a real difference-maker.
There were 40,487 fans there Tuesday — a park record — and countless others draped across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The all-black outfits, the chants and the constant noise clearly rattled the Reds’ pitchers. It’s a perfect environment for postseason baseball as anyone tuning in on Tuesday night could see.
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.
Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.
Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.
Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.
The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.
Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.
Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.
The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.
Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.
Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.