Francisco Liriano (oblique) cleared to return to the Pirates’ starting rotation this weekend

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Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano was dominant in his rehab debut Monday at Triple-A Indianapolis, striking out eight batters and surrendering only three hits over six scoreless innings against the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate from Lehigh Valley. He was so good, in fact, that his next start will be in the big leagues.

Bucs manager Clint Hurdle told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Liriano has been cleared to return to the club’s starting rotation this weekend against the Reds. The exact date of his return outing has not been revealed, but Saturday seems like the best bet.

Liriano has been on the disabled list since June 11 with a strained oblique. He was off to a disappointing start before the injury — with a 4.60 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 72 1/3 innings — but the 30-year-old southpaw is certainly capable of a big second half. Liriano had a 3.02 ERA and 122 WHIP in 161 frames last season.

The Pirates open play Tuesday with a 4 1/2 game deficit in the National League Central standings.

2017 Preview: The National League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League West.

The Giants had the best record in all of baseball at the All-Star Break and the Dodgers lost the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw for a big chunk of the season. Yet, somehow, L.A. won the NL West by four games. The biggest culprit was the Giants’ suspect bullpen, which they put some real money toward fixing this winter. Is it enough? Or is a a Dodgers team with a healthy Kershaw just too talented for San Francisco to handle?

Below them is an intriguing Rockies team, though probably not a truly good Rockies team. The Dbacks have a lot of assorted talent but are nonetheless in reshuffle mode following a miserable 2016 campaign. The Padres, meanwhile, are in full-fledged rebuilding mode, but do possess some of the best minor league talent in the game.

Here are our previews of the 2017 NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

2017 Preview: The American League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League West

There’s not a lot of separation between the top three teams in this division. Indeed, it would not be a surprise for either the Astros, Rangers or Mariners to end the year on top. Part of that is because none of these contenders are perfect, with all three facing some big challenges in putting together a strong rotation.

Meanwhile, the best baseball player in the universe toils in Anaheim, where he’ll most likely have to content himself to playing spoiler. Up the coast in Oakland . . . um, green is pretty?

Our 2017 AL West Previews:

Houston Astros
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Oakland Athletics