For many of the past 20 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have sent exactly one player from each of their typically downtrodden teams to the MLB All-Star Game. But 2013 is clearly a different season for the Bucs, as the Midsummer Classic will further demonstrate.
As first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Michael Sanserino on Twitter, the first-place Pirates will have four representatives at the All-Star Game on July 16 at New York’s Citi Field. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, lefthanded starting pitcher Jeff Locke and righty reliever Jason Grilli were all named to the National League roster Saturday evening by Major League Baseball.
For McCutchen, it will be his second straight appearance in the talent showcase, which also determines which league will enjoy home-field advantage in the World Series. Alvarez, Locke and Grilli are first-time all-stars.
McCutchen, 26, has followed up a breakthrough 2012 with another above-average three months in his fifth big-league, helping the Pirates claim MLB’s best record (53-32) entering Saturday’s game in Chicago. The Fort Meade, Fla., native finished third in NL most valuable player voting last fall after putting up 31 home runs and a .953 OPS at a premium defensive position, establishing himself as one of the up-and-coming stars in baseball.
The New York-born Alvarez, also 26, will enjoy a homecoming that wasn’t a given even a month ago. Although the Vanderbilt product hit 30 homers in 2012, his batting average and power were both down until around the middle of May, when he started to drive the ball like few can. Alvarez hit his 22nd bomb of the season in Saturday’s loss to the Cubs, putting him third on the NL leaderboard in that category. His defense is much improved as well, making 2013 look like a coming-out party for “El Toro.”
On the pitching side, Locke has been one of MLB’s most surprising starters, as his 2.12 ERA in 17 games puts him in elite company. The 25-year-old from New Hampshire is in his first season as a full-time starter, allowing only 24 earned runs (26 total) to pace a Pirates pitching staff that had permitted an MLB-low 3.42 runs per game entering Saturday. Locke had appeared in only 12 games for Pittsburgh entering this season, making him perhaps the most unlikely member of the NL’s pitching staff.
Grilli is the only thirtysomething among the Pirates’ four all-stars, making his Midsummer Classic debut at age 36. Born and raised in the Detroit suburbs, the hard-throwing Grilli has pitched for five MLB teams; a four-year stint with his hometown Tigers is still his longest stay with a franchise. The Pirates signed him away from the Phillies’ minor-league system in 2011, and he’s been excellent ever since. Initially slotted as a set-up man, Grilli has saved an MLB-best 28 games as Pittsburgh’s primary ninth-inning reliever this season.
McCutchen (2005) and Alvarez (2008) were both drafted by the Pirates in the first round, while Locke (Atlanta – 2006) and Grilli (San Francisco – 1997) came from other organizations. Locke was acquired along with fellow pitcher Charlie Morton in the 2009 trade that sent Nate McLouth to the Braves, thus opening center field for McCutchen to step into.
All four players are deserving of all-star nods, but the Pirates’ new status as playoff contenders likely helped each get noticed by players, managers and media. Pittsburgh leads St. Louis by one game for the NL Central lead following Saturday’s action; the Bucs are 8 1/2 games clear of their nearest competitors for a playoff spot, which would be their first since 1992.
Catcher Russell Martin also has a chance to join his four teammates in New York. Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina was named to the NL’s starting lineup, but he may miss the All-Star Game due to an injury; Martin would be the most likely replacement for Molina.