Like it or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates are still within reach of their first playoff berth in 20 years. Moreover, despite their recent slump that has seen them go 11-20 since August 1, the Bucs can still put an end to a 19-year losing drought.
However, they can’t do that if Andrew McCutchen doesn’t get back to performing at an MVP level.
Facts are facts and the truth is that Cutch needs to be the Pirates’ best player for them to have any chance to not only make the playoffs, but to finish the season over .500.
To say August was a rough month for McCutchen is a huge understatement
Looking back at McCutchen by the month, Cutch plummeted in August after outstanding months in June and July in which he was the National League Player of the Month each time.
April: .302 AVG/.351 OBP/.723 OPS/0 HR/ 7 RBI
May: .360 AVG/ .424 OBP/ 1.134 OPS/ 8 HR/ 18 RBI
June: .370 AVG/ .420 OBP/ 1.096 OPS/ 7 HR/ 26 RBI
July: .446 AVG/ .510 OBP/ 1.249 OPS/ 7 HR/ 15 RBI
August: .252 AVG/ .347 OBP/ .693 OPS/ 2 HR/ 13 RBI
September (only 3 games): .231 AVG/ .231 OBP/ .538 OPS/ o HR/ 1 RBI
As you can see, the Bucs go as McCutchen goes. It’s no coincidence that the Pirates late season collapse of 2011 came when Cutch saw his biggest struggles of the season and the same thing is happening right now.
A season ago, Cutch hit only .255 in July, .266 in August and .171 in September. That simply can’t happen this season.
Going forward, his numbers don’t have to be insane like they were in July, but they have to be pretty good for the Bucs to have a chance to finish what they started.
It’s as simple as he absolutely must be the best player in a Pirates uniform the rest of the way.
Garrett Jones is carrying the offense right now and Pedro Alvarez looks to be somewhat back in a groove. But while they are important pieces the rest of the way and the Bucs need their production, it’s Cutch who needs to take things to another level.
McCutchen has time to turn things around but he must get started soon, for not only his sake but the teams as well.
Part of the problem is obvious and that is the fact that he’s pressing. Cutch knows how important he is to this team, but he can’t do it all with one swing. He needs to get back in a groove and has success from at bat to at bat. However I believe some of Cutch’s recent struggles are related to Neil Walker as well.
Things were going well for both guys when Walker was batting in the No. 2 hole throughout July. Walker was just as hot, hitting .358/.423/1.097 during the month.
Yet after the trade deadline Walker has found himself entrenched in the No. 5 spot almost permanently and both guys have suffered because of it as Walker dipped to .222/.256/.645 in the month of August.
With Walker batting in front of Cutch and Jones protecting him, McCutchen is going to get better pitches to hit. When Walker gets healthy this is a change Clint Hurdle almost has to make.
In the meantime though, there’s a lot of pressure on McCutchen to perform and he’s going to have to deliver. If your best player plays as such, everything else will fall into place.
The Pirates are fortunate enough to have McCutchen locked up long-term, but in the short-term they are a team that goes the way their superstar goes. Other guys in this lineup can’t be expected to carry this offense. That has to be McCutchen’s job.
Hopefully he gets started quickly. If he does, I expect this Pirates team to hang in the playoff race until the very end.
If he doesn’t, finishing under .500 for the 20th consecutive season could become a reality.