Pirates go 21 over .500 with win over Cubs

Brian Sandalow, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- With the Pittsburgh Pirates already thriving in baseball's best division, Francisco Liriano kept them hot Friday against the National League Central.
Liriano threw his second career complete game and Andrew McCutchen stole home to lead the Pirates to a 6-2 win Friday over the Chicago Cubs. After allowing a two-run home run to Scott Hairston in the second, Liriano (8-3) shut down the Cubs the rest of way, giving up four hits and striking out seven in his first complete game since no-hitting the White Sox on May 3, 2011.
Liriano also had an RBI single and drew a walk while improving to 3-0 against the Cubs this season. Hairston's homer gave the Cubs their first runs off Liriano this season, ending the Cubs' scoreless streak against Liriano at 15 1-3 innings.
Despite ending that streak, Liriano's performance made manager Clint Hurdle further regret not bringing up his name for All-Star consideration before Friday's game.
"I have brought it up with others," Hurdle said. "This is an exclamation point to what he's been doing."
The Pirates, whose three-run third was capped by McCutchen's steal of home, went to a season-high 21 games above .500 for the third time. They also became the first team to win 25 games against its division, improving to 25-13 when facing National League Central opponents.
They got there because of Liriano, who's allowed only two runs in 23 innings against the Cubs this season.
"I'm having pretty good success dominating Chicago so I'm just glad we got a win and everything went well," Liriano said.
That usually isn't the case, meanwhile, for the Cubs against the Central.
While the Cubs are 25-22 against the rest of baseball, they're 11-26 when facing the Central, good for the lowest winning percentage (.298) of any team against their division.
Almost wistfully, Cubs manager Dale Sveum looked back to a time when the Central wasn't as strong as it is now, with the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds all at least 13 games above .500 entering Friday.
"You remember the days when this division wasn't too good," Sveum said. "That's part of baseball and then that's where you've got to get as an organization and your 25-man roster is (to) get guys to play like and pitch like those guys are."
Jeff Samardzija is expected to be there when the rebuilding Cubs reach that point, but he struggled Friday.
Despite getting some run support for the first time since Opening Day against Pittsburgh, Samardzija was unable to win his third straight decision. In six innings, Samardzija (5-8) walked a season-high five and matched a season high by allowing five runs while surrendering nine hits
He allowed Liriano's RBI single in the second to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Liriano's RBI was his third of his career and first since May 22, 2011, and just his second hit of the year.
Samardzija then have up three runs in the third after Hairston's homer in the second, capped off by McCutchen's steal of home on a double steal, Pittsburgh's first since Ryan Doumit on June 17, 2005, at Boston.
Jose Tabata's infield single in the fifth then brought in Garrett Jones for the last of Pittsburgh's runs against Samardzija.
"Just everything was up in the zone, pitches for them to hit," Samardzija said. "Being behind in the count you're going to put yourself in a battle and have runners on all day. Just wasn't able to be aggressive out there."
Liriano was able to be aggressive against the Cubs. After Hairston's homer in the second, he gave up just two hits and at one point retired eight straight batters.
"He's been on his game for pretty much the whole year," catcher Russell Martin said.
NOTES: Hurdle said A.J. Burnett, on the disabled list since June 13 with a right-calf strain, will come off the disabled list and start Sunday. Burnett is 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA lifetime against the Cubs, and is 5-0 with a 2.91 ERA at Wrigley Field. ... Cubs OF David DeJesus, on the DL since June 15 with a sprained right shoulder, hit off a tee but Sveum said there's no timetable for his return. ... Hurdle said both closer Jason Grilli and reliever Mark Melancon are both "absolutely" deserving of spots in the All-Star Game, while saying Pedro Alvarez, McCutchen, Starling Marte and Jeff Locke should also be considered. Sveum called SP Travis Wood "our all-star." The All-Star teams will be released Saturday. ... When asked about Yasiel Puig's All-Star candidacy, Hurdle said baseball is always looking to "put out its gemstones" and that his chances are "a conversation that needs to be had." ... Charlie Morton (1-1, 2.50) will start for Pittsburgh on Saturday against Chicago's Edwin Jackson (4-10, 5.75).

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