Monday, July 31, 2017

Andrew McCutchen's 3 home runs carry Pirates to win over Padres

The Associated Press
July 30, 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, center, gestures at the plate with umpire Dana DeMuth, left, and San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges watching after returning from a solo home run  during the first inning of a baseball game in San Diego, Sunday, July 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, center, gestures at the plate with umpire Dana DeMuth, left, and San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges watching after returning from a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game in San Diego, Sunday, July 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

SAN DIEGO -- Andrew McCutchen paused a bit as he rounded first base after hitting his third home run Sunday, wanting to make sure that it was indeed gone before finishing his trot.
It was. The ball hit the right-field foul pole and bounced onto the field, causing a moment of confusion before one of the umps signaled homer.
"I just wanted it to stay fair," McCutchen said after the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the San Diego Padres 7-1 to snap a four-game losing streak. "I didn't know if it was going to stay fair or not. I just kept running until someone signaled something.
"It feels great," said McCutchen, who had his third career three-homer game. "I'm in a good position to hit. I wasn't missing anything; getting pitches to hit and hitting them and being able to hit them with some power. It felt good. I had a good day at the plate. It was an all-around good day."
McCutchen's big day backed Gerrit Cole, who pitched seven innings of five-hit ball for the Pirates.
It was just the second win in eight games for the Pirates, who ended the Padres' four-game winning streak.
McCutchen, a five-time All-Star and the 2013 NL MVP, has 22 homers. He connected with two outs in the first off left-hander Clayton Richard, with the ball clearing the fence just out of the reach of center fielder Manuel Margot. He homered into the Padres' bullpen in left-center in the eighth off rookie Jose Torres and then homered with two outs in the ninth, again off Torres.
"It feels good, man," McCutchen said. "I've done it before so it's cool to be able to do it again. To have that opportunity to go out there and do it for the third time in my career, that's pretty cool."
This was McCutchen's third multihomer game of the season and 15th of his career. He also made a nice diving catch in center field to end the eighth.
"They're special days, and I told him that as he came off the field," said manager Clint Hurdle, who turned 60 Sunday. "I've got to see him do it a couple times now, three homers in a game. He creates a wake in everything he does. To have your best players and have the performance they had today, Andrew and Cole, makes the game look easy, and it's not.
"I've watched players play at an elite level and Andrew's as good as any of them."
McCutchen scored four runs.
"He's a perennial All-Star," Richard said. "He's one of the top players in the league for a reason. You have to give him credit. Like you saw today, he hits with power to all fields, he has speed. He's a really good player.
"I fell behind McCutchen a couple of times and I think that's really what changed the game," he said.
Pinch-hitter Josh Bell homered in the ninth, his 19th.
Cole (9-7), who lives in Santa Ana and played at UCLA, won his second straight start and third decision in a row. His only big mistake was allowing a home run by rookie Dusty Coleman to center field with one out in the seventh, his second. Cole struck out eight and walked two.
Cole was a happy witness to McCutchen's big day.
"It's a lot of fun," the right-hander said. "Using all three parts of the ballpark. Pretty special hitter."
McCutchen is successful because of "his persistence to stick with his process and just control what he can control and always going in the right direction," Cole said.
Cole said he "just executed a good amount of pitches and kept them off-balance enough. When guys are eating up groundballs left and right you tend to attack the zone."
The Pirates scored three runs in the sixth when the first four batters reached. Jose Osuna hit a two-run triple to right-center and Jordy Mercer followed with an RBI single to center.
Richard (5-12) gave up seven hits and four runs in six innings, struck out five and walked two.
Richard notched his MLB-leading seventh pickoff when he caught Cole too far off the bag after reaching on a single in the third.
San Diego first baseman Jose Pirela made an impressive catch of a foul ball by Chris Stewart while diving into the stands to end the top of the eighth.
Pirates: Josh Harrison suffered discomfort in his lower left leg while stretching for the bag on a grounder in the third inning. He reached on a throwing error by shortstop Dusty Coleman and was replaced by Max Moroff. Moroff stayed in the game at second base.
Padres: C Austin Hedges(concussion) and 3B Yangervis Solarte (side) came off the DL and started.
Pirates: After an off day, RHP Jameson Taillon (6-4, 4.03 ERA) is scheduled to open a home series Tuesday night against the Cincinnati reds and RHP Homer Bailey (2-5, 8.37).
Padres: After an off day, RHP Jhoulys Chacin (10-7, 4.22) is set to start the opener of a two-game series against Minnesota, with RHP Berrios (9-4, 3.76).

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Steelers rookie James Conner ready to put emotions of draft day, cancer survival behind him and focus on football

By Will Graves, The Associated Press
July 28, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, right, hands off to running back James Conner during practice at NFL football training camp at Latrobe High School in Latrobe, Pa., Friday, July 28, 2017 . (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) 

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — The catharsis came inside a crowded restaurant on that raucous Friday night in late April when James Conner picked up the phone and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was on the other end telling Conner he was about to be selected in the third round of the NFL draft.
That's when the tears came. That's when Conner took a deep breath and celebrated the final steps in his draining journey from marginal college prospect to record-setting running back to cancer patient to the highest level of his chosen profession.
There were no tears when Conner arrived at Saint Vincent College on Thursday to start training camp. No moment in the dorm room he's sharing with second-round pick Juju Smith-Schuster to think about just how far he's come.
If Conner is being honest. He's ready to move on. While his spirited and ultimately one-sided battle with lymphoma in 2015 and 2016 turned the former Pitt star into a role model, made #ConnerStrong very much a thing and turned his No. 30 Steelers jersey into a hot seller before he even signed his contract now he sees himself as just another rookie trying to make it.
"There's no emotion (about) being a cancer survivor and everything," Conner said Friday as the Steelers opened camp. "I'm a good football player. All the emotional part, 'Oh wow, I'm in the NFL,' that's all behind me."
The 22-year-old is only focused on what's ahead, namely trying to get a firm grasp of the intricacies of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's playbook and developing a rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With Pro Bowler Le'Veon Bell yet to sign his franchise tag-tender and report to camp, Conner and former Kansas City Chiefs backup Knile Davis find themselves splitting carries with the starters.
Conner understands he's not Bell. Then again, neither is anyone else in the NFL.
"He set the bar, he definitely set the bar high with his receiving and his running ability and his pass blocking, in every category to me he's the best running back in the game," Conner said. "I've got to get in a rhythm. It'll give me an opportunity to work with Ben a little bit so there's no drop-off in the rhythm when Bell comes out of the game."
Conner, wearing yellow game pants rather than shorts (a habit he picked up from Pittsburgh All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown), spent two soggy hours on Friday darting all over the field. When he wasn't working with the punt protection unit , he was lining up in the slot — yes, in the slot — during the team's 2-point drill or setting up behind Roethlisberger then trying to weave his way through a sea of arms, legs churning all the while.
During one sequence Conner headed left, cut right and lowered his shoulders then kept right on chugging 60 yards to the end zone long after coaches had whistled the play dead. Following a hamstring injury that limited him during organized team activities and minicamp, Conner is only too eager to show he's more than just a feel-good story.
"The slogan here is 'the best ability is availability,'" Conner said. "It's a moving train as Coach T says, so hop on. We get in what we put in."
Even if what Conner has put in over the last two years has been a little more than most. He was the reigning ACC Player of the Year when he tore the MCL in his right knee in Pitt's 2015 season opener before being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma around Thanksgiving. Six months of energy-sapping, mettle-testing chemotherapy followed, then another six months of proving he was all the way back during his redshirt junior season with the Panthers.
Consider the Steelers believers. Then again, they had a pretty good view. The club shares a training complex with Pitt, and the Steelers watched as Conner went from a modestly regarded recruit (he signed with the Panthers as a defensive end) to a wrecking ball of a back who set an ACC record for career touchdowns.
If Bell is healthy and around, Bell knows touches will be hard to come by this season. That's fine. There are other ways to contribute. A year ago he was getting reacquainted with football after it was nearly taken away from him. Now he's eager to show he's more than just a feel-good story. He knows what his defiant battle against cancer meant to others. He just wants to show he's more than just a feel-good story about perseverance.
"I came a long way from the University of Pittsburgh, not in distance wise but you know, in life," he said. "I'm excited about it all. I believe in myself, I think I'm ready."
NOTES: Smith-Schuster tweaked a lower-body injury during the early portion of practice but was able to return. ... S Daimion Stafford, who was placed on the reserve/did not report list on Thursday, arrived at camp and practiced on Friday. Tomlin said his understanding was Stafford was considering retirement.
For more NFL coverage: and

Friday, July 28, 2017

This absence felt most at Steelers camp

By Kevin Gorman
July 27, 2017

Image result for dan rooney latrobe
Roger Goodell, Dan Rooney, Mike Tomlin, Art Rooney II, and John Madden in Latrobe in 2010 (AP)

The sound of a single-engine, propeller plane flying over the St. Vincent campus made for a surreal sight on the eve of Steelers training camp.
The aircraft was reminiscent of the Beechcraft Bonanza that Dan Rooney would pilot to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport for Steelers training camp.
After practice, he would fly over Chuck Noll Field and tilt his wing, a tip of the cap from the friendly skies.
“That was something,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, “we all looked forward to.”
For all of the talk of holdouts from training camp, the most important Steeler missing Thursday was Dan Rooney, the team chairman who died in April at age 84.
“It was strange, walking down on that field without him here,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said of his father. “You look around and there's a lot of things that remind you of him. So, obviously, it's going to be an adjustment.”
Reporting day at Steelers training camp is something of a circus, a show of one-upsmanship that sees players go to great lengths to arrive in style, from Antonio Brown by chauffeur in a 1931 Rolls Royce to James Harrison blasting sirens in a fire truck.
The 39-year-old Harrison even joked he would skydive if playing next year. Funny, but Dan Rooney outdid them all without even trying. He flew in by personal plane and was chauffeured around in a golf cart, oftentimes by Colbert, who cherishes that time spent together.
“You still look for him. That's not going to fade away anytime soon, nor should it,” said Colbert, like Rooney, a North Catholic graduate. “He just taught you with every encounter, you learned something from him.
“We have to take what he taught us and not only live it but let's pass it on to the next generation so even though they don't get to know him, we can pass along some of the lessons he taught us.”
There is a reverence around the Steelers for Dan Rooney, much like there was for his father, Art Sr. Where the elder Rooney was known as The Chief, they call his son The Ambassador, after serving as ambassador to Ireland.
“I miss The Ambassador already,” said Steelers radio color analyst Tunch Ilkin, who played tackle from 1980-93. “Camp's not going to be the same. I felt that way when The Chief died back in 1988. That first camp without The Chief, you missed him. Same thing with The Ambassador. That he's not here, it's going to be felt.”
Rooney's absence will be felt in Latrobe, where the Steelers are holding training camp for the 52nd year, almost as much as Arnold Palmer. The legendary golfer died in September, and Palmer's private jet provided a tribute with a flyover at his memorial service at St. Vincent Basilica.
While the talk here Thursday centered around the 11th-hour signing of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the holdout of Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell in protest of his franchise tag, the Steelers spent some time remembering Dan Rooney. They will wear a black-and-gold patch with a shamrock and his initials on their uniforms this season.
Colbert noted this will be a year full of remembrances of Rooney, public and private, one that will hit home when the Steelers board their charter and The Ambassador isn't in his front-row seat next to Art II.
“I think that we will do a number of things to try to remember him and celebrate his life and everything he meant to the organization and a lot of individuals in a lot of different ways,” Art II said. “It's going to be, for a lot of us, a bit of a strange trip.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the team's intentions are to honor The Ambassador with how they proceed professionally and personally. The key is for the Steelers to play — and play to win.
That's what makes training camp distractions such as Bell's holdout so unsettling: The Steelers reached the AFC championship game last season but missed the chance to give Dan Rooney a Super Bowl send-off. This year, they have the talent to honor his memory by winning a seventh Lombardi Trophy.
“I think about him quite a bit,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, an important event such as today, reporting up here, you can't help but think about him and the level of excitement that he would have. I'm sure that he's watching us.”
That was the reminder the Rev. Paul Taylor, the monk who serves as St. Vincent's executive vice president, shared with Art II: His father's spirit is with us.
Every reminder of The Ambassador, whether it's the sound of a plane or an empty seat, should be a sign to pass down his life lessons to the next generation, just as Steelers ownership has through the Rooney family.
“When I'm leaving campus, a lot of nights I stop at the monastery or basilica and say a prayer,” Art II said after his first opening practice at St. Vincent without his father. “I'll be doing that and probably light a candle for him.”
For the Steelers and St. Vincent, it will be an eternal flame.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Trying to make the NFL safer won't happen, because it can't

By Mark Madden
July 28, 2017
Image result for steelers tackle
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The brains of 111 football players were scientifically evaluated after their deaths: 110 had CTE (brain damage).
Let’s find out who had that single intact brain. Everybody should play football just like he did.
It was probably a kicker.
Once again, the self-appointed guardians of the human race clamor for football to be fixed. To be made safer.
OK. But how?
There’s no magic pill or uber-protective piece of equipment, no panacea. Football is a game that damages the brain and body. If “fixing” it goes too far, it’s not football anymore. The element of danger is a selling point.
Reasonable adjustments are available. A sampling:
-- At the youth level, outlaw contact of any kind until ninth grade.
-- At the pro level, institute mandatory retirement: Either at a certain age (30?) or after a certain number of seasons, perhaps 7-8.
-- At all levels, cut back on contact at practice. Cut back on practice, period.
-- At all levels, cut back the schedules: Fewer games.
No contact ‘til ninth grade and less practice might lead to a lesser quality of football, but what’s the difference? Most spectators wouldn’t notice.
Fewer games, though, means less money. Shorter pro careers mean less money. So there's no hope for those reforms.
Anyway, football doesn’t want to change.
There’s no shortage of those whining, invoking pity and being self-righteous in the name of the greater good. But it’s all PR.
To play, or not to play? Or, how long to play?
Unless you’re trying to get a grant to do research that will never be effectively applied, those are the only questions that matter. Each individual must decide.
On Thursday, Baltimore center John Urschel retired at 26 after just three NFL seasons. He will pursue a Ph.D. at MIT, which isn’t an option for many.
But, during the current off-season, 14 NFL players retired who were under the age of 30. Last off-season, 20 NFL players under the age of 30 retired.
Here’s a scenario: Less rich kids play football. Poor kids keep playing, seeing it as a path to school/the pros. The rich watch the poor play football.
That has a Roman Colosseum-type vibe to it. Are you not entertained?
Football will never disappear, or even decline much. It’s too big to fail. Plenty of men will play, regardless of the risk.
Those incapacitated because they played football before the danger was known or because they were lied to by management, coaches and doctors deserve sympathy and assistance.
But now, we know the danger. Play, or don’t. If you sustain any sort of damage germane to football, you’re on your own after.
Meantime, the hunt continues for solutions that won’t be found. Ideas that might mitigate damage in some small way will mostly be ignored. Players will continue to headhunt via lack of respect for each other. Helmets will clash on every snap, because how can they not? Everybody will watch.
People don’t watch flag or touch football. End of debate.
But this discussion will continue in perpetuity. We need to pretend we’re trying to make football safe, but it’s a fool’s errand.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Josh Bell's emergence means Pirates have finally found a first baseman

By Chris Mueller
July 25, 2017
Image result for josh bell pirates 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell hits a two-run home run off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Swallowed up by the big-picture, “Nope, they’re not dead yet” July revival of the Pirates, the one that has seen them go from likely sellers to the thick of the National League Central race, is an individual development nearly as surprising. The Bucs appear, finally, to have found a first baseman.
If you are a Pirates fan of a certain age, the emergence of Josh Bell is probably much more shocking than the Bucs’ current turnaround. The last quarter century or so has seen a plethora of forgettable names pass through the position, done in either by a complete inability to field or throw a baseball (see Alvarez, Pedro), a distaste for making solid contact at the plate before June (see LaRoche, Adam) or just about any other malady or fatal flaw one could imagine.
Would you like to read some names, some blasts from the past, some saviors that never were? You would rather not? Too bad. The only way to appreciate Bell’s promising rookie season, and how good things could be, is to remember how bad they have been.
Remember Ron Wright? He came over in the Denny Neagle trade. He had 40-home run power. He was going to be the Pirates’ first baseman of the future. He was going to be the kind of pillar of power that teams search to fill their corner infield spots.
Wright’s career MLB numbers? 0 for 3, with one strikeout. In 2002. For the Seattle Mariners. Whoops.
There was Kevin Young, a brief oasis of competence and at times borderline excellence in the late 1990s. Young was a fairly slick defender with some pop in his bat. He even finished 19th in the MVP race in 1997 as arguably the best player on the freak show Pirates. Young was, in balance, a perfectly average player. By the Pirates’ first base standards, he was a borderline star.
There was Randall Simon, notable mostly for bopping a person dressed up like a bratwurst with a bat at Miller Park. There was Lyle Overbay, notable mostly for, well, nothing.
The rest of the less than distinguished list of tradesmen includes Daryle Ward, Doug Mientkiewicz, Casey McGehee, Mark Johnson, Steve Pearce, Ike Davis, Jeff Clement, Matt Hague, Eric Hinske, Corey Hart, Brandon Moss (got good after he left, of course), Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez. Garrett Jones hit a fair number of home runs and functioned as something of a heartthrob for female Pirates fans, but he was average at best.
I could keep going, but this is supposed to be a happy column, and I can feel the depression setting in.
All those misfires, all that futility, has led to Bell. Tasked with moving from the outfield to first base, he has developed into a serviceable defensive player with room to get even better in the field. Defense was what plagued Pedro Alvarez, but Bell, just shy of his 25th birthday, has taken to the position much more than Alvarez ever did, and he appears to be getting more natural in his movements and mannerisms by the day.
His glove work is important, but Bell’s bat has always been his meal ticket, even before the position switch. He’s been less selective than in his 2016 cameo, one in which he notched 21 walks against only 19 strikeouts, but the aggressive approach has paid off to the tune of 18 homers and 19 doubles through 99 games. He has displayed easy power to all fields from both sides of the plate and has a decent chance at a 30-homer, 30-double season. That’s the kind of production, especially in this renewed era of the longball, that is badly needed from a corner infielder.
Beyond the tangible traits, beyond the combination of his youth and production, is something else promising: Bell’s potential as the next face of the franchise. Andrew McCutchen has, at most, another year and a half in a Pirates uniform. After that, there will be a bit of a popularity void for fans. If he develops into a big-time performer, Bell’s personality suggests that he will be perfect for the role.
Bell is intelligent, gregarious, articulate, and most importantly, seems to take genuine joy in doing his job. His grand slam and subsequent exuberant celebration against the Cubs last July was arguably the high point in an otherwise lost season for the Bucs.
In short, he’s the type of player fans naturally gravitate toward. He’s the type of player teams build around, in every sense. Most of all, Bell appears to be the type of player with an exceedingly rare skill: the ability to excel at first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of "The Starkey & Mueller Show" from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

McCutchen's three-run homer powers Pirates past Giants 10-3

The Associated Press
July 25, 2017
Image result for pirates giants july 24 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hits a three-run home run off of San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain during the second inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, July 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Pittsburgh Pirates kept clearing the fences, and the San Francisco Giants were left arguing plate umpire Chris Conroy's tough strike zone.
Even Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle understood the beef.
Andrew McCutchen hit a three-run homer and had four RBI, Gerrit Cole won for the fifth time in six starts, and the Pirates beat San Francisco 10-3 on Monday night.
"I think there was some frustration really all night," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who watched most of the game from his office after an ejection in the second. "I don't think he had a real good night, to be honest, as far as consistency, but that really had nothing to do with what happened tonight. We gave up three-run homers."
Jordy Mercer added a three-run shot of his own in the eighth to further back Cole (8-7), 5-1 in his last eight starts. That lone defeat came June 30 as San Francisco swept the Pirates at Pittsburgh from June 30-July 2 -- the Giants' first in the series since 2009.
This time, Pittsburgh immediately jumped on San Francisco starter Matt Cain(3-9), who matched the longest losing streak of his career at eight games -- also done from July 28, 2015-May 10, 2016.
Bochy was tossed by Conroy for arguing balls and strikes in support of Cain moments after McCutchen connected, the skipper's second time being tossed this year. San Francisco pitching coach Dave Righetti then got tossed in the ninth.
"It was a tough zone," Hurdle said. "They lost two people on their side thrown out of the game."
Cole allowed two runs on six hits in six innings, struck out four and walked four.
He improved to 4-1 in six career starts against San Francisco. The Pirates won their seventh straight game at AT&T Park and ninth in 10, including sweeps both last year and in 2015.
Buster Posey hit a pair of RBI singles in San Francisco's fourth loss in five games.
McCutchen hit his 18th homer as the Pirates cleared the fences in San Francisco for a sixth straight game. His RBI groundout in the first started things off for a Pittsburgh club that had lost back-to-back games on the heels of a season-best, six-game winning streak, including a 13-3 flop in the finale against the Rockies on Sunday at Coors Field.
Josh Bell and Starling Marte each doubled home a run and Josh Harrison added an RBI single.
"This offense is good, we've shown that," McCutchen said.
Cain matched his second-shortest outing of the year at four innings and is winless in his last 11 starts, the longest by a Giants pitcher since the right-hander went 15 outings without a victory during his previous eight-game skid.
Former slugger Barry Bonds, who played for both teams, received a greeting on the scoreboard for his 53rd birthday but the career home run king wasn't in the stands.
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco, who strained his left hamstring Friday at Colorado and landed on the 10-day disabled list, tested his leg with some straightaway running and was going to do some riding on the stationary bike with the hopes he can hit in the cage soon. Hurdle said he did witness Polanco scurry across a street to avoid being hit by a car, then acknowledged it wasn't that close a call. ... With an off day Thursday at San Diego, the starters will get an extra day of rest.
Giants: RHP Johnny Cueto played catch and said the trouble spots on three of his pitching fingers are greatly improved. He said they aren't true blisters. The plan is for him to play catch again Tuesday and perhaps throw off the mound Wednesday if all continues to go well. ... Closer Mark Melancon had the day off as he recovers from a second DL stint with a strained forearm. He will throw a bullpen session Tuesday, Bochy said, and face hitters this weekend in Los Angeles if ready.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (6-3, 3.08 ERA) is 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in seven starts since returning from the DL on June 12, just more than a month after surgery for testicular cancer. He seeks his first decision against the Giants in two starts.
Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 3.57) tries again for his first victory of 2017 in his third outing back from missing nearly three months following a dirt bike accident April 20 in Colorado.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pirates are in a race for the NL Central, forcing Bob Nutting to think differently at trade deadline

By Mark Madden
July 23, 2017
Image result for bob nutting 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting talks with manager Clint Hurdle prior to the game against the New York Yankees at PNC Park on April 22, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.(Getty Images)

Pirates owner Bob Nutting is a liar.
The Pirates promised that payroll would increase proportionate to profit. It hasn't.
Nutting says he wants Andrew McCutchen to be a Pirate for life. But McCutchen's contract has just one year left (a club option), and Nutting has yet to offer him an extension.
But now, thanks to the Pirates' 12-4 run, Nutting will have to take his greed all the way naked and reveal an almost total lack of on-field ambition if the Pirates are to operate as they usually do between now and the July 31 MLB trade deadline.
The Pirates are just three games out of first place in the NL Central. It's not much of a division, but winning it would mean more than a 98-win wild card.
The Pirates are still a decided longshot, especially with the Chicago Cubs kicking it into gear (7-1 since the All-Star break heading into Sunday night's game against St. Louis). It wouldn't behoove the Pirates to trade future for present, not on any grand scale.
But the Pirates' position in the standings, however tenuous, merits at the very least standing pat. The players are owed that. The fans are owed that.
But standing pat would go against the Pirates' MO, which saw closer Mark Melancon and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano ditched at last year's trade deadline despite the Pirates being just four games out of the NL's second wild card.
Nutting does not want to pay McCutchen $14.5 million next year. Or even what McCutchen is still owed of this season's $14-million salary.
Nutting doesn't want to pay Josh Harrison $10.25 million next year, either.
Dumping Tony Watson (making $5.6 million before hitting free agency at season's end) would normally be a priority.
But the Pirates' recent uptick demands that Nutting think different.
But that doesn't mean Nutting will.
It makes for an interesting week.
How legitimate the Pirates' contention is can be debated. But the bottom line is, it's as legit as the standings say. Milwaukee (3-6 since the All-Star break) seems a fading Cinderella. It's easy to point at the Cubs' juggernaut lineup, their pedigree as defending world champs and their recent improvement, then declare them favorites.
But the season is almost 100 games old and the Cubs (and St. Louis) are both mediocre run producers. The pitching of both the Cubs and Cardinals is just marginally better than the Pirates'. Jose Quintana is one arm. Getting him won't necessarily fix the Cubs' rotation, which has seen Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey all disappoint.
Imagine if the Pirates, as was mooted, had traded prospects for Quintana. This might be a race the Pirates could win.
Then again, had that deal been consummated in the off-season, one of those prospects might have been first baseman Josh Bell. Thanks, but no thanks.
Still, isn't it frustrating that the Pirates are a team that never takes a risk?
Nobody's asking GM Neal Huntington to take a risk now.
But the Pirates should, at the very least, see this through with their current roster.
Now might be the best time to trade McCutchen in terms of return.
But attendance is on pace to drop 300K this season after dropping 250K last season. TV ratings for Pirates games on AT&T SportsNet are down 27 percent from last year.
But over 33,000 showed up at PNC Park for Thursday's afternoon game with Milwaukee. Tuesday's contest was AT&T SportsNet's highest-rated game broadcast this season.
After making the playoffs from 2013-15, only meaningful baseball is going to keep enough fans interested. The days of eagerly buying cow flop dipped in false hope appear to be over.
Nutting needs to consider that. And likely will, because it affects revenue.
If McCutchen is traded, only an idiot would remain emotionally invested in the Pirates, let alone purchase tickets. Nutting's intent is already clear, but at that point it's been jammed up your southernmost orifice.
If McCutchen is traded, the clubhouse is lost. It was shaken last year when Liriano and Melancon were traded, the latter being a bold-faced salary dump facilitated by sacrificing two prospects. Melancon's immediate loss was obvious, the impressive return of Felipe Rivero notwithstanding.
Fans saw Liriano having a poor season and didn't mind his departure. But for Liriano, three good seasons had preceded the one bad. His Pirate teammates saw him as an important element, and one that could rebound.
That mattered not to Nutting.
He doesn't treat the Pirates like a sports team. He runs the Pirates like a factory, where quality matters only as much as it helps boost profit. The players are employees. Nutting expects them to treat it like a job.
Which it is. But at this job, they keep standings.
If the Pirates stay intact, they can make a run at the division title.
If major components are shed, they will collapse.
This Pirates team has guts. Nutting needs to recognize that.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says McCutchen and Harrison are "not in play" re: the MLB trade market. That's good.
If you choose to believe something leaked to the media by a chronic liar, that is.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).