MILWAUKEE - In a succinct acknowledgement of the Pirates' success so far this season - 31 wins through the first 50 games - manager Clint Hurdle summarized his feelings on the matter.
"It's better," he said, "than not having 30."
The Pirates were 25-25 at this point in 2012 and overcame historically poor offense to reach that point. The Pirates started this season on a two-week offensive dry spell but have since improved.
How have they reached 31 wins?
• Run prevention. The Pirates had allowed the fewest runs per game, 3.41, of any team in the National League entering Sunday's games. Last season, the team allowed 4.16 runs per game.
Every pitcher currently in the rotation has an ERA of 3.58 or lower, and Wandy Rodriguez is the only pitcher whose ERA is above 3.00.
• Strikeouts. The Pirates' 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings rank seventh in the majors this season as of Sunday afternoon, up from their 7.5 mark that ranked 17th last season. A.J. Burnett leads the NL in strikeouts with 85.
• Strand rate. When a runner reaches base against the Pirates and a reliever is on the mound, the runner stays there 82.9 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs.com, which leads Major League Baseball. The league average is usually 70 to 75 percent.
• Power. The Pirates have 51 home runs, tied for third in the NL.
The pitching improvement and home runs have helped correct for an offense that still ranks in the middle of the NL in on-base percentage, runs scored and strikeouts.
Hurdle understood the short-term nature of the success.
"[It's] something to talk about in May," he said.
Test for Liriano
Francisco Liriano has allowed two runs in 18 innings in three starts this season. One of those came against the Milwaukee Brewers, who have several good hitters atop their lineup.
The other two starts came against the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, neither of which sports a premier offense.
He will get a test today against the Miguel Cabrera show, otherwise known as the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers led the American League in runs scored as of Sunday night with 5.38 per game. Their batting average and on-base percentage also lead the league.
"He's pitching well," Hurdle said of Liriano. "It'll be a good opportunity to see what he can do against one of the best lineups in baseball."
Cabrera, last year's most valuable player in the AL and the first triple crown winner in 45 years, is hitting .385 with 14 home runs. He has driven in 57 runs in 47 games. Prince Fielder, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta are backing up Cabrera with solid offense.
Liriano knows the Tigers well. He pitched against them often when he was a member of the Minnesota Twins, also in the AL Central. Liriano has a 5.93 career ERA in 23 games against Detroit.
"There's no mystery to him facing them or him seeing the lineup," Hurdle said. "There should be a comfort zone for him from that aspect."
Hurdle said he plans to have Garrett Jones serve as the designated hitter for both games in Detroit. ... The Pirates went 10-8 in interleague play last season, 3-3 against the Tigers. They are 3-2 against AL teams this season
First Published May 27, 2013 2:45 AM