Ron Cook on Andrew McCutchen: "The biggest reason the Pirates are headed to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like a lifetime."
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CHICAGO -- Andrew McCutchen is the Most Valuable Player of the National League. Can we all agree on that? He has been the best, most consistent player all season. He's the biggest reason the Pirates are headed to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like a lifetime.
But McCutchen isn't playing like the MVP right now. He hasn't for more than a week. He went 0 for 3 again Wednesday in a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. That makes 3-for-his-past-24 with no extra-base hits.
This isn't good for the Pirates as they approach the season-ending series with the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. They need to win two of three games this weekend to get the wild-card game at PNC Park Tuesday against the Reds. Lose two of three and that game will be in Cincinnati with bad possibilities. There would be a chance -- perhaps even a strong chance -- that Pittsburgh wouldn't get a postseason game at PNC Park, which hardly would seem fair considering it hasn't had a home playoff game since 1992.
On all of the players, to be sure.
But more so on McCutchen.
The Pirates need McCutchen to be McCutchen again.
"I'm just going to go play and let my talents take over," he said.
There's no question McCutchen has the goods to carry the Pirates, not just past the Reds but deep into the postseason. He has carried them much of the season.
But it is a bit troubling that McCutchen went 0 for 10 against the Reds last weekend when the Pirates lost two of three at PNC Park. It's a bit worrisome that he has one home run since Sept. 4, a span of 62 at-bats, and one double since Sept. 13, a span of 38 at-bats. He hasn't stolen a base since Aug. 28.
McCutchen didn't appear the least bit troubled or worried after a loss to the Cubs.
Maybe that's good news, right?
"It happens to the best of them," McCutchen said of his 0-for-the-weekend against the Reds in Pittsburgh. "Babe Ruth had an 0-for a few times, I'm pretty sure. That's baseball ...
"I'm just happy to be playing these games. At the beginning of the season, I don't think anyone had us here. I can remember people doubting us and thinking we had no chance. Now look where we are."
In a lot of ways, the Pirates are well-positioned to take two games from the Reds. A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole are expected to get the starts this weekend. Each has been pitching outstanding ball. Each should give the team a big chance of winning against a Reds rotation of Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.
Starling Marte has settled back nicely atop the lineup after missing so much time with a hand injury. He makes the Pirates go and is a force because of his speed. He came off the bench to hit the winning home run Monday night against the Cubs when the Pirates clinched their postseason spot. He had two hits with an RBI and a run scored in a win Tuesday night against the Cubs. He had two more hits and stole three bases Wednesday. He appears to be getting hot at just the right time.
It would help if Justin Morneau did the same thing. He needs to start hitting the ball out of the park or, at least, driving in runs. He hasn't hit a home run in his 70 at-bats since joining the Pirates Aug. 31 and has just two RBIs. That's not nearly good enough.
It also would be nice if the Pirates solved their back-end-of-the-bullpen problems. For much of the season, Mark Melancon was a shut-down eighth-inning man and Jason Grilli was lights out as the closer. Then, Grilli hurt his arm July 22 in Washington. Melancon took over in the ninth and was terrific, but he has been scored on in his past three outings despite not getting hit hard. Grilli is back as the closer, although he isn't throwing as hard as he did before his injury. Stay tuned.
But McCutchen remains the key for the Pirates.
"I don't care about the MVP, I just care about winning," he said. "I couldn't care less about my results as long as we win."
That's a nice team-first attitude, but it's hardly practical with three important regular-season games left. The Pirates need results from McCutchen to be successful. This needs to be his weekend.