Andrew McCutchen is just a few hours away from participating in his first Home Run Derby. Cutch, added to replace injured Mike Stanton of the Marlins, is one of the top NL homerun hitters in the National League with 18. While Andrew doesn’t look like a power hitter, he has more homers so far than competitor Prince Fielder. Oh, and he didn’t hit his first homer this season until May 8. Let that sit in your stomach for awhile.
McCutchen is having one of the best seasons by a Pittsburgh Pirate EVER and could have a major league record book season for best overal performance. He leads the National League in batting average. He has 60 RBI, an OPS of 1.039, swiped 14 bases and has 40 extra base hits so far. People shouldn’t be shocked when he’s mentioned in MVP talks and could even win a Gold Glove for icing on the cake. Jim Leyland gushed about how he thinks Cutch is better than Barry Bonds in 1992, the last time the Pirates had an MVP and finished above the .500 mark.
But why isn’t he in the same conversation as Matt Kemp, Hamilton, or even Carlos Gonzalez? Because he plays for the Pirates. McCutchen has always been one of the loudest advocates that the goal of this team isn’t to break .500, it’s to make a deep playoff run. He has been the undisputed leader of one of the worst teams in baseball and thus, no one has really paid much attention to him.
The MLB Homerun Derby is an event that ESPN pumps full of their maketing genius and becomes one of the top watched events of the MLB season. Furthermore, MLB is making a push for a baseball/Twitter integration that no other sport has attempted to do. Thus, tonight’s Derby will have more media power than a Presidential Debate and feel more like a Super Bowl. The perfect stage for McCutchen to make his mark.
Cutch has a Twitter presence that gets followers. He is humorous, honest, and often opinionated on pop culture. He also isn’t afraid to respond to Tweets, another key ingredient for a successful Twitter account. Just last night, his Tweet about flying coach sparked a Pirates’ fan base debate on just how cheap Neal Huntington is. Furthermore, add in the infinite amount of #SWAG McCutchen possess and you have not only the face of a franchise, but the face of an entire league.
All Cutch has to do is be himself and he has the opportunity to make a huge social media splash when more baseball fans are on Twitter, purposefully following the action of the Derby. Throw in the fact that Cutch has a legit shot to win the event, and the dark horse MVP candidate could run away from the pack. Cutch has the demeanor that won’t be affected by the added eyeballs or fans so don’t expect the collected player to suddenly make a personality shift.
He’ll be who he has been all year and that’s exactly what the Pirates need.
The Pirates and the All Star game have had a very weird affair over the past decade. Some years, like 2004 for example, genuine All Stars like Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez were represented to play in the Mid-Summer Classic. Other times, the Pirates send relievers like Evan Meek because no one else on the team is really worthy/the National League has a full lineup.
Last season, the Pirates got a combo of both situations as Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan both made it to Arizona and Kevin Correia was also added to the mix. Yeah, I forgot about that too. Anyways, for the Pirates this year, they seem to have a legitimately solid team with an ok number of All Star Candidates. But who will end up going?
Andrew McCutchen: By far and away, he is the All-Star of the Bucs. Buster Olney tweeted that he would give McCutchen a fourth place MVP vote at this time in the season, Jim Bowden wrote for ESPN.com that he thinks McCutchen should start the ASG and McCutchen leads the Pirates in every important offensive stat while being near the top on National League leader boards. However, according to Pirates.com, McCutchen is 11th in NL outfield votes and had yet to crack the one million vote mark. I have no doubt that if McCutchen doesn’t get the initial votes, he will be on the last man in ballot and win. If that doesn’t happen then the moment someone goes down with injury, McCutchen will be named to the team. Bottom line, he’s a guaranteed All Star.
James McDonald: J-Mac is 4th in the NL in WHIP at a microscopic 0.98 and leads the team with 78 strikeouts. As Rumbunter mentioned a month or so back, J-Mac would also be in position to start the All Star game and not affect the Pirates rotation or his 5 day rest between starts. R.A. Dickey has been the best NL pitcher by far, but J-Mac isn’t far behind. I don’t see how with all of the pitchers that the ASG gives spots to that he is left out. Another guaranteed All-Star for the Bucs.
Joel Hanrahan: As mentioned above, The Hammer is a returning All Star who is currently 3rd in the National League with 17 saves to this point. However, unlike the previous two players above, Hanrahan has arguably taken a step back from last season. Gone is the 1-2-3 9th innings and instead are two on two out save opportunities caused by himself. An argument could be used that his pitching is no longer a surprise, but a more accurate assessment would be that his control has gone down. While he has a better k/9, he has doubled his bb/9 and his HR/9 has gone up from .13 to 1.38. He lets himself get behind in the count and hitters know to look for the fastball. I think that Hanrahan is the best option for a third Pirate to get into the ASG, but it’s no shoo in either. Give it 60%.
A.J. Burnett: There have been two players in the last 20 years to win 6 straight appearances for the Pirates. Both came from the Yankees, both are a little different and both have faired far better in black and gold over pinstripes. Doug Draebek did it in 1990 and A.J. Burnett is doing it again in 2012. A.J. had one horrific start in St. Louis where he gave up 12 ER in less than 2 full innings of work. And yet, he is 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA. He has been nothing but dominant since and has more than likely earned a spot on the National League All Star game. But yet, with this being the year of the pitcher and the Pirates being, well the Pirates, I don’t know if it’s possible for A.J. to be get the attention of the right people to make the squad. I give him a decent chance, but no more than 40%.
Jason Grilli: 14.73 K/9 are not going to be ignored. In fact, only two National League hurlers have more strike outs than Grilli. However, Grilli is a set up man going through the fountain of youth that is Pittsburgh first half pitching and one really wonders if the set up man deserves an ASG bid. Personally, I think he does but with releivers, there is just as much of a “how much have I seen you before” element during the selection process. LaRussa will be managing the National League but I have no idea how much baseball he watches. Since the Pirates have only been on FOX twice, unless Brewers manager and NL coach Ron Roenicke puts in a good word for Grili, I think Jason misses out even though he clearly deserves it.
What do you guys think? Anyone else on the Bucs deserve a chance at the ASG?
One of the best revelations I have had since catching Spring Baseball Fever is that the Pittsburgh Pirates Scoreboard is on YouTube. Some of your favorite videos featured on the PNC Park Big Screen can be found on their channel. For anyone who says this is stupid, just watch one video and let the addiction begin.
For starters, here is the classic battleship entrance played before all Pirates game:
And as the game comes to a close, it’s obviously Hammer Time.
Any Thunderstruck fans out there?
More after the break! (more…)
There has been much debate over the Major League scheduling process that has little rhyme or reason and schedules April first games in Minnesota and Cleveland when they could very easily play Tampa and Florida teams. Don’t even start on interleague, but the moral of this story is that scheduling kind of stinks in general.
Hence, after a quick ESPN.com Insider reminder, the Pirates happen to have the toughest first 25 games in all of the National League, arguably, the entire MLB. I don’t know who has it out for the Pirates but the Bucs face off against teams with a winning record 22 of their first 25 games with only 9 games at home.
For the home game aspect, after the Cleveland fiasco of a few years back, I am okay with holding off Pirates home games until May and after. I’d much rather sit through a game in the 50′s-60′s than April’s usual 30′s-50′s unpredictable systems. However the opponents are something that shocks me.
The Pirates open the season at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, a nice touch on what could be a great National League rivalry someday. The Pirates then have their usual division diving West Coast road trip the following set, rather than in June, as they head out to face the Dodgers, Giants and D-Backs.
Things do not get any easier as the Bucs come back home for a matchup against the defending champion Cardinals (who are now without Tony LaRussa so maybe the Cardinals will win some games) and the Rockies, which features the awkward reunions of Jim Tracy and the Pirates and Clint Hurdle and Rockies.
The month from hell wraps up with another four game set in Atlanta that had better not feature Jerry Meals or else Pirates fans may not exist into May. (more…)