x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pittsburgh Pirates go from blunderers to plunderers

Don't look now but Pittsburgh has a chance of not just snapping their 19 seasons without a winning record but also of winning their division.

Andrew McCutchen has been swinging his way through the National League and helping the Pittsburgh Pirates overturn 19 years of frustration.
Andrew McCutchen has been swinging his way through the National League and helping the Pittsburgh Pirates overturn 19 years of frustration.

Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates are at it again.

The franchise which has not had a winning record in 19 seasons made a push for four months last season, before a 19-inning marathon loss to the Atlanta Braves on a bad call at home plate sent them on a downward spiral. But with a hot six weeks at the plate, the Pirates are making another run in the National League Central.

They won four in a row to move to 10 games over .500, a position they have not been in since 1992 when Barry Bonds was patrolling left field and they made a run at the World Series, losing in Game 7 on the National League Championship Series. They were in first place by one game over the Cincinnati Reds through Friday.

But manager Clint Hurdle said the scope of this turnaround is something his young team cannot truly appreciate.

"The depth of it, I don't think our guys can understand because they haven't embraced it the last 19 years," Hurdle told MLB.com. "So I don't think we can understand the impact we can make. But giving (the city) a competitive team, a team they can be proud of - yes, I do think they get that."

It is another dynamic outfielder making the difference - centre fielder Andrew McCutchen. The newly-named NL All-Star won league player of the month by hitting .370 with seven home runs and 26 RBI in June. He was leading the majors in batting average through Friday at .360.

He is playing like a Most Valuable Player, bidding to become the first Pirate to have 15 or more homers, 50 or more RBI, 10 or more stolen bases, 100 or more hits and a .350 or higher batting average at the All-Star break.

The Pirates are getting contributions from unexpected places, too. A week after he was claimed off waivers, and playing with his third team already this season, Drew Sutton hit a walk-off home run in an 8-7 win over the Astros.

The Pirates have 23 comeback wins, third-most in the majors. That's a sign they have intangibles working and Hurdle sees it too, comparing them to the Colorado Rockies team he managed to the World Series in 2007.

Their starters are led by a resurgent AJ Burnett and James McDonald, who have combined for 17 wins. Their bullpen is anchored by Joel Hanrahan, who has been as dominant as any closer in baseball with 22 saves.

When you add it up, the Pirates could enter the All-Star break leading their division for the first time since 1997.

"This city is hungry for a winner," Hurdle told the Associated Press.

"These guys are hungry to win."

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