Last season, Andrew McCutchen led the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 21 years. The Pirates centerfielder produced a .317/.404/.508 batting line, drilled 21 home runs, stole 27 bases, and played excellent defense. Overall he totaled 8.3 fWAR, the most in the National League. Only Mike Trout had more. For his efforts, McCutchen was named the NL’s Most Valuable Player.
Despite missing time with a rib injury, McCutchen is having another great year. Through the first two months of the season he hit just four home runs. In May he went homerless. However, he enjoyed a spectacular month of June, hitting .343/.410/.686 with 20 extra-base hits and eight home runs. His ISO is currently a career-high .229, and with 58 extra-base hits, he could surpass his total of 66 in 2012.
All in all the 27 year-old is hitting .303/.396/.530 for a 160 wRC+. Offensively his numbers are a slight improvement on 2013. Only Jose Abreu and Mike Trout can claim a higher wRC+. Even though his defensive ratings are down from last year and he’s missed 13 games with an injury, he’s among the NL leaders in fWAR with 5.1.
The Pirates are 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining. They’re scrapping hard for the last playoff spot. McCutchen isn’t at full strength after suffering a rib injury, but he’s in the lineup nevertheless. While he was on the disabled list, the Pirates went 5-8. Over the remainder of the Bucs season he’ll play an important role in deciding their playoff fates.
Their pitching staff is dead last in baseball in fWAR. Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano missed significant time with injuries, and Wandy Rodriguez was an absolute disaster. They’ve utilized Brandon Cumpton, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke as fill-ins. Last year’s closer, Jason Grilli, was a disaster before losing his job to Mark Melancon and being traded to the Los Angeles Angels. Along with Melancon, Tony Watson has helped to carry the Pirates bullpen.
Top prospect Gregory Polanco has been underwhelming and Pedro Alvarez has been below replacement-level. However, as a whole their offense has been stellar. McCutchen has carried this team, and Josh Harrison and Russell Martin are having phenomenal seasons.
It took a major surge just to put the Pirates in the playoff picture. McCutchen has played a huge role in getting them to this point. A strong performance down the stretch combined with a Pirates playoff appearance could put him in prime position for what should be a very crowded NL MVP race.
There are plenty of good candidates, as Giancarlo Stanton is having a phenomenal season, Jonathan Lucroy has combined excellent catcher defense with prime offense, and Clayton Kershaw is having a season for the ages. With so many strong seasons, the last few weeks of the season could separate McCutchen from the rest of the pack.