It was the Fourth of July under a sweltering 95 degree Pittsburgh heat when Andrew McCutchen left the on-deck circle for his first plate appearance of the day. Chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" resonated throughout PNC Park. Right they are. The Pirates have the second best record in the National League and are primed to make a playoff run. The Pirates center fielder is also poised to make a run at fantasy MVP. Heading into the break the five tool star is slashing (.362/58/18/60/14) with an incredible (.431/27/8/27/4) over the last 60 days.
When the season resumes on Friday Pittsburgh can look forward to a dream schedule. 38 of their remaining 77 games are against the four worst pitching staffs (ranked by earned run average) in the National League: the Colorado Rockies (last with 5.26), Houston Astros (next to last at 4.47), Chicago Cubs (14th with 4.36), and the Milwaukee Brewers (13th with 4.24). The Buccos also get a visit from the San Diego Padres (staff earned run average of 4.65 away from Petco Park); travel to Great American Ballpark (most Home Run friendly stadium in all of baseball), and to Miller Park (second most Home Run friendly stadium) for six games apiece.
Pittsburgh has a reputation for being a light hitting team. Year-to-date they rank 21st scoring 4.05 runs per game (as a guage the Texas Rangers lead the majors with 5.15 per game). The first two months of the season the Pirates were dead last scoring a punchless 2.94 runs per game. However, since June 1st the fans down by the three rivers have witnessed an offensive eruption of epic proportions, as the Pirates rank second to none scoring a whopping 5.65 runs per game.
McCutchen’s bat has led the charge, but he’s had plenty of help. Over the last 30 days Michael McKenry (.326/.389/.674), Pedro Alvarez (.287/.392/.621), Neil Walker (.314/.405/.505), Garrett Jones (.300/.337/.550), Drew Sutton (.317/.344/.500) and Casey McGehee (.315/.373/.554) have all made opposing pitchers feel the power of the Zoltan. There is enough on this group’s collective resumes combined with a juicy upcoming schedule to make most of these undervalued hitters decent targets in midseason leagues. The Pirate’s brass is not resting on their laurels and is targeting Carlos Quentin and Justin Upton among others to bolster what is already shaping up to be a solid lineup.
The Pirate pitching staff gets some good matchups as well, with 36 of their remaining games coming against teams ranking near the bottom in run production: Houston Astros (23rd), Miami Marlins (26th), Los Angeles Dogers (27th), Chicago Cubs (29th), and the San Diego Padres (30th). Remove A.J. Burnett’s crooked outing at Busch stadium back on May 2nd (12 earned runs) and he ends up with a 2.59 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. With 10 wins in 15 starts, the W’s should continue to pile up facing the leagues’ bottom feeders. I’ve even picked up Jeff Karstens (3.92/1.22) in a couple of leagues for spot starts against some of their weak opponents.
Down on the farm Starling Marte continues to hit (.290/.350/.492). Get out a few FAAB dollars if he gets the call. In the mean time Sutton is patrolling left (career: .271/.322/.420). Justin Wilson (3.44/1.15) has increased his K-rate and improved his fastball command at Indianapolis and could get a look if Erik Bedard continues to struggle. He is risky, but worth a stash and see if he gets the call as he offers value for his strikeout and win potential.