The acquisition most responsible for the Pirates ending a 20-year losing streak and hosting Game 3 of the National League Division Series can be found on the PNC Park pitching mound at 4:37 p.m. Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Two hard small-market truths are these: Lower-tier revenue clubs cannot afford free-agent aces. The Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year $147 million dollar deal in the offseason equivalent to one-third of the total value of the Pirates' franchise according to Forbes. But teams must have elite arms to advance to and deep into the postseason. The only avenues for small-market clubs to obtain such players is through amateur talent acquisition or finding undervalued players via free agency or trade.

The Pirates entered the offseason with one front-of-the-rotation arm in A.J. Burnett. The Pirates needed help a fact that played out as 80 percent of the Opening Day rotation — Wandy Rodriguez James McDonald Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke — failed to complete the year due to injury or performance.

For the Pirates to transform from perennial losers to a 94-win playoff team Francisco Liriano had to transform. He had to change from the bargain-bin free agent no one wanted to the ace everyone wants to see Sunday.