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The Juice: Watch all of Francisco Liriano’s 13 strikeouts for Pirates

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Assuming everything goes to plan and he's not needed on the last days of the regular season or for a wild card playoff, the Pittsburgh Pirates should use left-hander Francisco Liriano as a Game 1 starting pitcher in the NLDS. He kept on rolling Monday night, striking out 13 in a 3-1 victory at San Diego. His effort, along with a league-leading 31st home run from Pedro Alvarez, helped the Pirates keep a one-game lead in the NL Central.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wouldn't "label" Liriano as his No. 1 starter, but he talks about him like he is. Via the Associated Press:

''I'd never take it for granted and I hope nobody else does when you watch a man go out there and pitch like he does,'' Hurdle said. ''I hope there's some appreciation. He continues to just be masterful.''

A.J. Burnett, another pitcher with playoff experience, would seem to another candidate to open the playoffs. But consider:

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(Getty)

Liriano also lowered his ERA to 2.53. He doesn't quite have enough innings to qualify for the league lead, but if he did, he'd be fifth. His 13 K's were still two short of his career high, and he's pitched a no-hitter (no matter how homely it was), so he has bona fides. Chris Denorfia of the Padres said Liriano's fastball was "explosive," but so was his best breaking pitch:

Getting ahead: The Pirates improved their record to 73-51, meaning they need only nine more wins (assuming a 162-game season) to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992. The playoffs are just a short step from there!

MORE SCORES

Cubs 11, Nationals 1: Washington mysteriously traded for David DeJesus, who they don't really need, and he pinch-hit against his old team in a blowout loss. Then they put him on waivers immediately. Strange season for D.C.

Cardinals 8, Brewers 5: Rookie infielder Kolten Wong picked up his first two major league hits and rookie righty Michael Wacha absolutely vultured his second career victory in relief. Kids!

Reds 5, Diamondbacks 3: Now that his shoulder is feeling better, Ryan Ludwick was able to drive in his first run of the season.

Marlins 6, Dodgers 2: Rookie sensation Jose Fernandez outdoes rookie sensation Yasiel Puig in a meeting of rookie sensation Cubanos. Also, slugger Giancarlo Stanton crushed one into the Home Run Device.

Red Sox 7, Giants 0: Lefty Jon Lester almost pitched a complete game, and Tim Lincecum continued to wander.

Phillies 5, Rockies 4: Oh, Ryne Sandberg's boys are rolling now.

Mets 6, Twins 1: Get in for a makeup game, get out with a win. Efficient.

Rangers 16, Astros 5: An 11-run third inning will do that.

Rays 4, Orioles 3: Lefty David Price worked out of jams and said he left exhausted. Getting home-run support from Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce helped.

Indians 5, Angels 2: Nick Swisher homered and threw out a runner at the plate, bro.

Athletics 2, Mariners 1: Walk it off, Brandon Moss!

''The only way this guy is going to improve is to be here."
— Manager Terry Collins, on Mets rookie catcher Travis d'Arnaud

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Swish being Swish. (Getty)

• The Nats lost for the 64th time, equaling their season total from 2012.

• Oakland's Jarrod Parker threw his first career complete game.

• Only five of the 11 runs the Rangers scored in the third inning were earned.

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