**Note: This is being posted later than I anticipated. I ran into quite a few issues/plans last night including a backed up bathroom sink, visitors, and entertaining guests. My apologies**
The Friday Five is going to be a reoccurring post that will run every Friday (Imagine that) and will do a top 5 regarding a specific topic. Good way to round out the week. If you have any suggestions of topics, please post them as I’m sure I’ll need ideas. I’ll try this for a few weeks and see how it goes, but I think this will drive a lot of discussion between us Pirate fans. After the jump and without further ado…
The Friday Five: Most Deserving Pirate All Stars
The Pirates have exceeded all expectations this year by performing to an even record through 74 games. Some of it is contributed to the leadership of Clint Hurdle, but at the end of the day the players have to perform on the field. The Pirates are guaranteed at least one player to make the NL All-Star team, but the point of this list is not to determine who the fans will vote or who the manager will select. It is to determine who has been the most-deserving to make the team, by offensive and defensive standards. Let’s get started…
5.) Charlie Morton
It is without question the resurgence of Charlie Morton has been well documented throughout the baseball community, with many comparing him to the likes of Roy Halladay. But his improvement deserves more credit than just a most improved player award. Until has last two starts, Morton has been able to be Pittsburgh’s most reliable starter. In previous years, there was not a guy that we would hope to get back to after his last start. The thinking now is "If we can go 2-2 or 3-1, we know we will have a good shot to get to 3-2 or 4-1 with Morton on the mound." Charlie’s ERA has risen to 3.77 due to his last two performances, but hopefully he is able to rebound in his next start against Washington.
4.) Jeff Karstens
What has made Jeff Karstens so special this year is the fact that he was not even in the rotation at the start of the year. Karstens was set to be the long reliever/spot start guy in the bullpen this year. When Ohlendorf went down with his injury, Karstens stepped in to make a spot start. With Brad Lincoln injured (at the time) and no other options, Karstens needed to turn into that 5th guy in the rotation. He has exceeded all expectations and is arguably our best starter right now with his performances. In ten starts, Karstens has allowed the following earned runs: 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 0, 0, 1. Remarkable for a guy not even intended for the rotation at the start of the year.
3.) Neil Walker
Every time I watch a Root Sports broadcast and Walker drives in a run, the announcers feel the need to remind us that this most recent RBI leads all 2nd basemen in all of MLB. And it’s a quality of Neil that has made him so valuable on this team. The Pirates are 3rd to last in runs scored per game so every RBI Neil is able to drive in, the better. It should also be noted that with McCutchen batting right in front of him most games, Neil’s RBI opportunities are even greater. Regardless, being able to get the hit with runners on is very valuable.
2.) Joel Hanrahan
To think that there was discussion between who would be closer going into the year is almost laughable at this point, considering Evan Meek’s struggles/injuries and Hanrahan’s dominance. Hanrahan is 21 for 21 this year in Save Opportunities, but you have to actually watch the guy pitch to understand his value. Hanrahan mildly struggled in the 9th to start the year, allowing runners on base and providing Pirate’s fans with a higher blood pressure. But the guy has improved drastically, giving him the nickname "The Hammer". It is remarkable how he is able to blow batters away with his fastball and then make them look foolish with a slider that is 2nd to almost no one in the game. Another great acquisition by Neal Huntington.
1.) Andrew McCutchen
With the speed, defensive playmaking ability, and a bat that has come alive, McCutchen has turned himself into the leader of this team on the field. As I spoke to Charlie Morton earlier about his starts, when McCutchen comes up to bat now during the game, the feeling of a hit or solid play verses easy out (Overbay) comes. The Pirates WANT him to come up to the plate in key moments. The playoffs are not out of reach yet, but are also not a realistic expectation this year with teams like St. Louis and Milwaukee still very strong. However, McCutchen in the long term gives this team a player that can lead them to wins and provide the playmaking ability to secure those wins.
Post your thoughts below. Appreciated as always.
Monday: Is This Really Our Pitching Staff?