PITTSBURGH -- The Milwaukee Brewers invested $50 million on Matt Garza three years ago to be their staff ace. They've been rewarded with 15 victories since then, just one this season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, never one to throw money around, are paying left-hander Francisco Liriano $13 million to be their staff ace this season. They've been rewarded with only five victories, and just one in his last nine starts dating to May 24.
The NL Central rival Brewers and Pirates wrap up the first of their five series over the second half of the season Thursday, when two of the majors' most disappointing starting pitchers match up only 10 days before the trading deadline.
The Brewers, of course, would love to see Garza pitch well -- something he's done infrequently while going 15-25 overall since signing his big contract. And not just to benefit them on the field.
Garza, 32, has pitched so little this season due to a lat problem that landed him on the 60-day disabled list -- and pitched so ineffectively when he's been on the mound -- that he's significantly reduced his value. If they could swing a deal, the Brewers no doubt would pay much of the money still due Garza through the end of the 2017 season.
Garza has made only one quality start in six games, and the Brewers are 1-5 in those -- including a 5-4 loss Friday at Cincinnati in which he gave up four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters are batting .328 against the right-hander.
Liriano's struggles are more pronounced because he has been in the Pirates' rotation all season, making 19 starts. But he's lasted at least six innings only once since June 11 -- during a 5-1 loss in Washington on Friday.
And the problems he developed early in the season with his mechanics, and with throwing strikes, aren't going away.
Once the protege of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Liriano and Searage haven't seemed to be on the same page as Liriano's uneven first half of the season has carried over into the second half. And with the Pirates searching for a reliable starting rotation down the stretch -- they'd probably like to add a starter -- it becomes even more important for them to get Liriano untracked.
"I'm more focused on throwing strikes right now, not thinking about the hitters and whether they can put the ball in play or not," Liriano said after the Nationals loss, in which he walked at least three for the ninth time in 10 starts. "I'm just making sure I'm executing pitches and throwing everything down in the zone."
Each team will be looking for a series win Thursday following the Pirates' 3-2 win on Tuesday and the Brewers' 9-5 decision on Wednesday, when Jonathan Lucroy drove in three runs and Scooter Gennett and Chris Carter had two RBIs each.
"Every time those guys came up, they were in RBI situations. What you want in your lineup is for the first two guys to set up your big run producers, and Brauny and Luc came through," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Pirates starter Jeff Locke and four relievers aided the Brewers offense by combining to walk nine.
"He (Locke) will be the first to tell you he walked too many guys -- when you walk guys and they get a big hit, that can hurt you in a hurry," Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer said.
The Brewers kept the pressure on the Pirates by twice executing double steals, one involving leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar, who reached base four straight times on two singles and two walks.
"We'll pick spots to run and try to capture bases, and just push it and keep pressure (on)," Counsell said.
That's a strategy they'll try to employ Thursday against Liriano, who has lost his last three decisions at PNC Park.