Andrew McCutchen

Running down the rosters: Pittsburgh Pirates


While it was a 19th straight sub-.500 season, the Pirates did finish with their best record since 2004 by going 72-90 last year. They’ve since added two starters to an already much-improved pitching staff. As for the offense, well, they’re just going to have to hope that the incumbents get better.

A.J. Burnett – R
Jeff Karstens – R
Erik Bedard – L
James McDonald – R
Kevin Correia – R

Joel Hanrahan – R
Evan Meek – R
Jason Grilli – R
Chris Resop – R
Daniel McCutchen – R
Daniel Moskos – L
Chris Leroux – R

Disabled list: Charlie Morton (R)
SP next in line: Brad Lincoln (R), Jo-Jo Reyes (L), Jeff Locke (L)
RP next in line: Juan Cruz (R), Doug Slaten (L), Tony Watson (L), Reyes (L), Ryota Igarashi (R), Tim Wood (R)

I’m far from a big believer in Karstens, but that’s a pretty legitimate rotation, particularly if Morton can return from hip surgery in April and push Correia to the pen. I have Burnett, McDonald and Morton all projected with ERAs in the low-4.00s, and Bedard should be able to beat that for however long that he’s healthy.

The bullpen lacks an obvious setup guy for Hanrahan, but Meek could be the answer if he bounces back from last year’s arm woes. There’s also plenty of depth. Grilli, Resop, Leroux and Watson all had really nice strikeout rates in their time with the Pirates last season.

RF Jose Tabata – R
LF Alex Presley – L
CF Andrew McCutchen – R
2B Neil Walker – S
1B Garrett Jones – L
3B Casey McGehee – R
SS Clint Barmes – R
C Rod Barajas – R

C Michael McKenry – R
1B-OF Nick Evans – R
INF Josh Harrison – R
INF Yamaico Navarro – R
OF Nate McLouth – L

Next in line: C Jose Morales (S), C Tony Sanchez (R), C-1B Jake Fox (R), 1B Matt Hague (R), 1B Jeff Clement (L), 3B Pedro Alvarez (L), SS Chase d’Arnaud (R), INF Jordy Mercer (R), OF Gorkys Hernandez (R), OF Starling Marte (R), OF Brandon Boggs (S)

The plan is still for Alvarez to play third base, with McGehee serving at a backup at both corner infield spots. They need to make Alvarez earn it, though, and I’m far from convinced he will. The former No. 2 overall pick hit .191/.272/.289 in 235 at-bats last season, and it’s not like he makes up for it with his glove.

If Alvarez does solidify his job, then the offense would be pretty much set, with only the two utility infield jobs up for grabs.

It was surprising the Pirates limited their outfield additions to McLouth given the injury histories of Tabata and Presley. Of course, they do have the option of moving Jones back to the outfield and going with McGehee at first base.

The offense hinges on the outfield, not only on the health of Tabata and Presley, but in McCutchen playing like he did in the first half of last season, not in the second half. An Alvarez rebound would surely be nice, too, but it’s hard to imagine him being a difference maker this year.

The defense will be improved, but then, that’s what the Pirates were paying for in bringing in likely offensively sinkholes Barmes and Barajas. The outfield should be great. The infield aside from Barmes will remain a problem regardless of whether Alvarez or McGehee starts at third.

This is a Pirates team that could finally crack .500 if some things break right. 160 innings from Bedard and 420 starts from the three primary outfielders would be a good place to start. There isn’t a whole lot of upside beyond that, but the team should be decent for now and there’s a lot of pitching in the pipeline for 2013-14.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.