Cutch

Because Andrew McCutchen is the center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he’s probably the best player few have heard of.

But at the rate McCutchen is going, this won’t be the case much longer because the Pirates (49-39) are a big story, only one game behind the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central.

McCutchen is batting a big-league-best .371, and this past Sunday in a 4-1 loss at the Milwaukee Brewers, nailed his 21st homer, has 64 runs batted in (tied for second in the NL), and is the primary figure behind the Buccaneers’ resurgence.

Spanning the last four games, McCutchen went 10 for 17 at the plate, including five homers, with eight RBIs and six runs scored.

McCutchen began in a crawl, failing to hit a homer in April, and drove in seven runs. Then he turned it around, blasting eight round-trippers with 18 RBIs in May, followed by seven home runs and 26 RBIs in June.

So far in July, McCutchen, who cracked a personal-best 23 homers with 89 RBIs in 2011, has mashed six homers with 13 RBIs.

Last season, the Pirates stayed above .500 until late, but fell out of playoff contention.

This time, the city is bracing for no such collapse, and if the 25-year-old McCutchen can carry the club a few more months, they’ll advance to the postseason for the first time since 1992.

McCutchen is the type of hitter who can lift a team for a week or longer, but even a two-time All-Star needs some help.

If there is a weakness, it’sPittsburgh’s offense, because aside from McCutchen, there’s not much power.

Pitching is another matter. Near the top of the league, the Pirates owe this to former New York Yankee A.J. Burnett (10-3 with a 3.78 earned-run average) and James McDonald (9-3 and 2.59).

McCutchen attended Fort Meade High inFlorida, where he participated in baseball, football and ran track.

He signed with theUniversityofFlorida, butPittsburghdrafted him in the first round (11th overall), and opted to play minor league baseball.

At 22, McCutchen arrived in 2009, playing in 108 games, batting .286 with 12 homers, 54 RBIs, 26 doubles, nine triples and 22 stolen bases.

McCutchen hit the jackpot on August 1, 2009, becoming the 10th Pirate to launch three home runs in a game.

“It was just one of those days,” said McCutchen, who went four of five with six RBIs. “It was one of those days where everything worked, everything went your way. You got your pitches, and I was able to hit them. I was able to get them out. It’s just a day that I know I won’t forget.”

It’s possible McCutchen will have similar performances, and is making a name for himself. Some call him the best all-around player along with the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, and is a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award.

Though McCutchen placed fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, BaseballAmericahad him first.

Now we’ll see if the Pirates can do the same.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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