Francisco Liriano will get the ball on Opening Day at PNC Park against the Chicago Cubs March 31, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. This is an obvious choice for the Pirates, as the only other pitcher one could make an argument for is Gerrit Cole, and even he would likely tell you Liriano deserves the nod.
In his first season with the Pirates, Liriano finished ninth in Cy Young Award voting after posting a 16-8 record with a 3.02 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 161 innings. After injuring himself in the offseason, and nearly seeing his contract with the Pirates disappearing, Liriano returned in May to start 26 games for the team, solidifying his status as the ace within the process.
As the Pirates made their first postseason appearance in 21 years, Liriano was given the ball for the Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Reds as well as for Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the last game the Pirates won all season. Liriano pitched excellently in the playoffs, allowing just seven hits and three runs in 13 innings, and the Pirates won the Wild Card game as well as Game 3 of the NLDS.
A tailor-made lefty for PNC Park, Liriano was well more impressive along the North Shore than he was as a member of the visiting team. He went 8-1 at home in 11 starts with a 1.47 ERA, certainly a major factor in Liriano getting the nod for the home opener.
The Pirates will likely be facing Jeff Samardzija for the second consecutive season, as the Cubs pitcher has excelled against the Bucs historically, as he did Opening Day 2013.
With that in mind, the lineups announced for first pitch against the Cubs could shape out as such;
LF: Junior Lake
3B: Daniel Murphy
RF: Justin Ruggiano
1B: Anthony Rizzo
SS: Starlin Castro
CF: Ryan Sweeney
C: Willin Castillo
2B: Darwin Barney
P: Jeff Samardzija
LF: Starling Marte
RF: Travis Snider
CF: Andrew McCutchen
3B: Pedro Alvarez
2B: Neil Walker
C: Russell Martin
1B: Andrew Lambo
SS: Jordy Mercer
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