If you told me before the MLB season that Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen would be the favorite for the NL MVP in August, I would have said it's a possibility, but probably too soon.
Now, if you told me that newly aquired starter A.J. Burnett would be in the Cy Young race, I would have laughed at you. Maybe slapped you if you were smaller and/or slower than me.
But here we are in August, and McCutchen and Burnett are having tremendous seasons. McCutchen is the NL MVP right now and if the season finished today, Burnett would have to be in the top five for the Cy Young.
It's amazing to follow these guys right now.
Ever since Pittsburgh fans saw McCutchen speed out of the box on the way to his first triple in 1999, we all knew he could be great. Finally, Dave Littlefield got one right! In a little less than four seasons, McCutchen has career numbers of 74 home runs, 582 hits, .295 average, 332 runs, 268 RBIs (Yeah, I put the "s" in. Deal with it.) and .377 OBP. This year, he's already matched last year' shome run total (23) and is batting more than 100 points better (.370 compared to .259).
What is even more impressive about McCutchen's season is for the first two months of the season, he had almost no help in the lineup. In April and May, the Pirates had a almost historically bad offense. It was like the team was running out McCutchen and eight minor leaguers every game. Yet McCutchen kept lighting up opposing pitching and somehow led the Pirates to a .500 record after the first two months of the season.
Now that the rest of the team has started hitting (They had the most runs in the league in June.), the Pirates are sitting at 16 games above .500 on August 9. Hard to believe, right?
Of course, the pitching has also been a major factor. While James McDonald started hot, it's Burnett who has been the most reliable. When the team was facing a sweep by the Reds last weekend, it was Burnett who came in and picthed 8+ innings to stop the slide. After a bad loss to the Cubs, Burnett stepped to the rubber and nearly pitched a no-hitter.
For the season Burnett has an ERA of 3.19, WHIP of aorund 1.15, 14 wins and 109 strikeouts. Other than wins, he's outside the top 10 in the major categories, but I'm not sure there is a single guy in the NL who has been more important to his team than Burnett.
When was the last time the Pirates had a starter who actually made you feel confident that a win was coming? Honestly, I can't remember one. Maybe the year Oliver Perez had people making comparisons to Randy Johnson (Yes, people were actually doing that because Perez's slider was nasty and his K/9 was greater than 11.) had fans thinking that, but I don't recall.
When Burnett takes the mound, fans and the team alike know there is a better chance of a win. That can do a whole lot in terms of motivating everyone to step up their games, because they don't want to be the ones to let the team down.
While McCutchen will probably be the unanimous MVP choice if he keeps up his pace, Burnett would probably have to be even better than he has been to win the Cy Young. I'm not sure that's possible, but in this season of improbabilities, I'm not betting against it.
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