Red-hot Cardinals off to best start in 71 years

St. Louis is 16-6 for the first time since winning 18 of its first 24 games in 1944 and has claimed nine of those victories in its 11 home contests.

Billy Hurst/Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Francisco Liriano has the difficult task of facing a St. Louis Cardinals team that’s off to its best start in 71 seasons.

The Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander, however, has shined in his rare appearances in St. Louis and is looking to build on one of his best outings of the season Saturday.

St. Louis is 16-6 for the first time since winning 18 of its first 24 games in 1944 and has claimed nine of those victories in its 11 home contests. The Cardinals defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 in 10 innings Friday for a fourth straight win.

Matt Adams ended the game with a two-out, bases-loaded single and has seven of his team-best 15 RBIs in the last four games. He’s also 9 for 18 with a homer and three doubles during the win streak.

"We needed something to happen and he made it happen," manager Mike Matheny said. "Guys like him, they want to be up in that situation. He’s been taking some real good at-bats."

The Cardinals, winners in 13 of 16, have taken 15 of the last 18 home games against Pittsburgh (12-11), including the postseason. St. Louis began that stretch after a 5-1 loss to Liriano on Aug. 14, 2013.

Liriano (1-1, 2.22 ERA) is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three career starts at Busch Stadium, his lowest ERA at any park he’s pitched at least three times. He was limited to just two scoreless innings in his only outing there last year because of flu-like symptoms.

Liriano hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in his last 11 overall starts dating back to a home matchup against the Cardinals on Aug. 25, going 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA. He pitched six scoreless innings in that 3-2 loss and is 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA in nine career starts versus St. Louis, including one in the 2013 division series.

Liriano is coming off an 8-0 victory at Arizona on Sunday in which he yielded two hits in 6 1-3 innings and didn’t let six walks hurt him. The Pirates also gave him four runs of support, matching their output from his first three games.

"This guy competes, and that’s what we need," manager Clint Hurdle told MLB’s official website. "He’s an experienced guy who gives us what we need every time out."

John Lackey (1-1, 4.21) pitched opposite Liriano in his most recent matchup with the Pirates, allowing one run in seven innings to get the win Aug. 25. That was his first start against Pittsburgh in 10 years.

The right-hander pitched six scoreless innings before giving up three runs in the seventh in Monday’s 4-1 loss to Philadelphia.

"I’ll take 30 more of those and we’ll see what happens," Lackey said.

The Pirates have not allowed a home run in nine consecutive contests — their longest streak since a 10-game run May 19-29, 1991 — and have served up just two in their past 14 games. Yadier Molina and Mark Reynolds were the only current Cardinals to homer off Liriano last season but they’ve gone deep once in a combined 99 at-bats this year.