On the Pirates: Welcome to the Show

Jones, McCutchen rate in National League rookie race, but pitchers favored

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Even within this most miserable of seasons, the Pirates have not one but two players vying for a major individual honor.

The same honor, actually.

Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen each surely will receive serious consideration for the National League's Rookie of the Year, Jones leading all rookies with 19 home runs, is now leading the Pirates with a .298 average and has 39 RBIs, while McCutchen has 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, a .274 average and has played fine defense in center field.

Either of them thinking about this?

"Right now, I'm still trying to focus on one game at a time," Jones said. "You know, I've thought about it a little bit, but I don't think it's quite registered. If you take care of each day, the numbers will take care of themselves, and things will just fall into place."

"Yeah, you think about it when you're doing well," McCutchen said, laughing. "When I really turned it on last month, yeah, I thought about it. I've been surprised myself by some of the things I've been doing, this being my first year, so, of course I think about it. I mean, not to the point of putting pressure on myself. But it's something that would be great."

Jones probably has the edge on McCutchen, even though he arrived a month later, and he also fares well when compared to the other two position-player candidates:

• Casey McGehee, Milwaukee third baseman, is at .306 with 15 home runs and 59 RBIs while spending most of the season with the Brewers.

• Chris Coghlan, Florida outfielder, is at .308 with nine home runs, six triples and 42 RBIs.

But the favorites to take the award figure to be one of these two pitchers:

• Tommy Hanson, Atlanta right-hander, is 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA, plus 93 strikeouts in 109 innings.

• J.A. Happ, Philadelphia left-hander, is 10-4 with a 2.77 ERA, no small feat in the Phillies' bandbox.

Jason Bay was the Pirates' only rookie of the year, in 2004.

Voting is done by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Worst offense since ...

Try imagining the Pirates' offense without Jones or McCutchen.

Consider that their current RBI leader is Andy LaRoche, with 52, putting him on pace for the franchise's lowest total in a non-shortened season since Hall of Famer Max Carey's 51 in 1917. The lowest total in the past decade was 82, by Jason Bay and Craig Wilson in 2004.

Jones currently leads with 19 home runs, which would be the lowest total since Kevin Young's 18 in 1997.

Jones also is the only player hovering near .300, a mark the Pirates have achieved with at least one player in 17 of the past 18 full seasons. The lone exception came with Brian Giles' team-leading .298 in 2002, but he also hit 38 home runs.

Look at it another way: Zach Duke's .231 average is within 20 points of LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Brandon Moss, Steve Pearce, Ronny Cedeno and Ramon Vazquez, which has comprised more than half the team's typical lineup in recent weeks.

No apologies in minors

The voluntary departure of minor league pitching coordinator Troy Buckley -- he wished to spend more time with his family in California -- no doubt will be met with positive reactions in some corners of the Pirates' system. His autocratic style rubbed more than a few the wrong way.

Kyle Stark, director of player development and Buckley's immediate superior the past two years, does not come close to apologizing for that.

"Perception of what is going on in development is being shaped by some people who either could not meet the challenges that were issued or the accountability being demanded, either staff or players," Stark said. "Being liked is not part of the job. While we have made missteps and need to continue to improve, we have come a long way, and many good things are happening. Look at the individuals who have performed and are getting better, many of whom were not expected to do much. There have been many more successes than failures."

The cumulative ERA in the Pirates' system in 2007, the last year before Stark, was 4.18. This year, it was 3.99. The rate of strikeouts to walks was 1.99 then, 2.22 now.

Traveling freebies

Attendance at PNC Park ranks third-to-last in Major League Baseball, but the Pirates also are the No. 11 road draw, with an average crowd of 30,780.

Sound ridiculous?

Not really.

As Vin Scully, the Dodgers' legendary broadcaster put it the other night, "The answer is simple: When the Pirates come to town, there are giveaways."

No, he did not mean all the at-bats the Pirates have been forfeiting. Rather, he was referring to freebies. There was at least one for each game of the just-concluded 1-5 trip through Houston and Los Angeles, including a bronzed Minute Maid Park replica and bobbleheads of Jose Valverde and Manny Ramirez.

One other reason is simple math: Other teams' road totals are brought down by the crowd sizes in Pittsburgh.

Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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