Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen takes the field for a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Monday in Pittsburgh. McCutchen went 1-2 with a sacrifice fly and his 16th HR of the year in the Pirates' 7-5 win over the Cubs on Wednesday night. (AP/Gene Puskar)
Neal Huntington hasn’t completely ruled it out, but it still doesn’t seem likely that Tyler Glasnow is going to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. A.J. Burnett is on the shelf until at least the beginning of September. Aramis Ramirez hasn’t shown much of anything in the cleanup spot.
Even though they possess the third-most wins in the league, the Pirates have some problems. The teams chasing them, the Cubs and Giants, appear at this juncture to be better ball clubs. Chicago, especially, has been red hot, winning six in a row entering last night’s tilt with the Bucs.
It isn’t quite crisis time for the Pirates, but they certainly could use a boost. Given what was mentioned above, the sources for such a kick in the pants are limited in number. It is commonplace at a juncture like this to look at players who aren’t performing at a level many feel they are capable of, and demand more from them.
This isn’t the time to beg and plead for more out of decent players. This is the time, fair or not, to ask for even more from superstars. This is the time where, more than anything else, the Pirates could use and absolute torrid streak from Andrew McCutchen. Nothing would help them more.
It probably isn’t fair to ask more of McCutchen. Since his miserable April, his monthly OPS hasn’t dipped below .900. He’s coming off a July where he hit six home runs, his highest monthly total this season, and drove in 21, also a season-high.
Fair, though, has nothing to do with it. The Pirates need even more from the best player on their team. They need a superhuman stretch. They need numbers so stupefying that fans will look back on August of 2015 and wonder why anyone pitched to McCutchen, under any circumstances. The Pirates need McCutchen the dominant MVP. As great as he’s been since the calendar turned to May, McCutchen hasn’t been quite the player he was the past three seasons.
The Pirates need the guy that went completely bonkers in July of 2012, posting a 1.249 OPS for the month. They need the player that did a reasonable Barry Bonds impersonation at that time, destroying virtually any pitch in the strike zone with extreme prejudice.
Just like the Bucs need Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to find another gear while Burnett is out, so too do they need McCutchen to become an unstoppable force. Jung Ho Kang helped float the Pirates through July with a torrid performance. Charlie Morton just gave them a badly needed pitching performance in Cincinnati.
Supporting cast members like Morton and Kang, like Neil Walker and Starling Marte, can be counted on to do mostly good things. They’re all, to varying degrees, good baseball players. Liriano can moonlight as an ace, and when he’s on, be as unhittable as any pitcher in the league. Cole can dominate for multiple starts in a row.
None of them are superstars like McCutchen, though. Cole is close, but the distinction is clear. He’s not there yet. It is reasonable, for sure, to want more from those in supporting roles. Baseball is, after all, a team sport.
For a team in need of a serious boost, for fans looking around for a spark that shoots the Pirates into another red hot run—this time against elite competition—there remains only one place to turn.
His name is Andrew McCutchen. He’s the well that never seems to run dry for the Pirates, and he’s the one trump card they can play that no one else in the National League can. Tyler Glasnow coming up would be great, and he would be a likely jolt to the team. Cole, Liriano and Morton delivering a series of strong starts would be a tonic for the pitching staff. Marte, Kang and Walker getting hot at the same time would be a huge boost.
None of those players can have the effect on the Pirates that McCutchen can if he goes on a tear. With the Cubs and Giants nipping at their heels, the Pirates and their fans had better hope that the guy wearing number 22 has even more to give.