Pirates-Giants Preview

The Associated Press

Manager Clint Hurdle may not like labels, but Francisco Liriano is clearly the Pittsburgh Pirates' ace.

He's also proving to be one of the major factors in the NL Central race.

Liriano will try to give the Pirates some breathing room atop the division by continuing his unexpected dominance Saturday night against the San Francisco Giants.

Liriano (14-5, 2.53 ERA) has already matched his career high in wins set in 2010 with Minnesota, and he's one shy of his total over the last two years with the Twins and Chicago White Sox.

Various injuries have derailed the left-hander's eight-year career, and he started 2013 recovering from a broken right arm.

Liriano has become Pittsburgh's most reliable starter, leading the team in wins while owning the lowest ERA of any member of the rotation. His stunning revival is a big reason why the Pirates (76-52) are one game ahead of second-place St. Louis in the division chase.

Still, Hurdle isn't concerned if Liriano is considered the staff's ace.

"I'm not big on labels. I just like to pencil his name in every fifth day," Hurdle said. "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. I hope there's some appreciation. He continues to just be masterful."

Liriano has been just that while winning his last two starts. He tossed a four-hitter in a 5-1 win at St. Louis on Aug. 14, and followed it up five days later by striking out a season-high 13 in seven scoreless innings of a 3-1 victory at San Diego.

Liriano earned a 12-8 victory in his only career meeting with the Giants, allowing four runs in six innings June 12.

He'll now try to help the Pirates improve to 5-1 on this seven-game road trip after they won 3-1 on Friday thanks to Clint Barmes' three-run homer in the seventh.

Pittsburgh took the opener of this four-game set 10-5 on Thursday.

Andrew McCutchen has four hits in this series, upping his major league-best average in August to .451. His recent staggering production may only continue since he's batting .475 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs during a 10-game hitting streak versus San Francisco.

The star center fielder has a .605 on-base percentage in his last eight games overall, but he's 2 for 14 with a double and a homer versus Saturday's starter, Tim Lincecum.

The Giants (56-72), who occupy the NL West basement, have dropped five of six at home while batting .219 and averaging 2.0 runs.

Buster Posey is struggling greatly at AT&T Park, mustering a .113 average and three RBIs over the past 17 games and going 1 for 6 in this series. The All-Star catcher went 0 for 3 with a strikeout versus Liriano on June 12.

A lack of support is nothing new to Lincecum (6-13, 4.53), who has been backed by one run or none in five of his six starts since the All-Star break. The right-hander is 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA in that stretch after tossing his first career no-hitter on July 13.

Lincecum has surrendered 11 runs over 11 innings in losing his last two starts.

He's 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in a pair of starts against the Pirates the past two seasons, but both were in Pittsburgh. This is his first home meeting with them since tossing a four-hitter in a win July 27, 2009.

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