Andrew McCutchen AP

Pirates could be without reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen for a month


In a serious blow to Pittsburgh’s playoff chances, the Pirates may be without center fielder, No. 3 hitter, and reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen until September because of an oblique muscle injury.

McCutchen tweaked his oblique muscle Sunday while hitting a sacrifice fly and an unnamed source told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that it looks like a “serious” strain that could knock him out for at least 3-4 weeks.

McCutchen has once again been one of the most valuable players in the league and has actually improved upon last year’s production, hitting .311 with 17 homers, 17 steals, a league-leading 68 walks, and a .949 OPS that tops last year’s mark of .911.

He’s been extremely durable, missing a grand total of 24 games since the beginning of 2010, so the Pirates have never really had to worry about how to replace McCutchen. Assuming that Starling Marte will be cleared to come off the seven-day concussion disabled list he could shift from left field to center field, with Travis Snider manning left field.

Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon
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I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

Pitch Clock
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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.