It's obviously way too early for the Pirates to think beyond the next game, let alone to the playoffs, let alone to the World Series. But I've already allowed myself to start thinking about the postseason awards, and the way I see it now, the Pirates are poised to run the table the way "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" did at the Academy Awards in 1976.
• Let’s start with an easy one. Could anyone other than Clint Hurdle walk away with the Manager of the Year trophy? We grumble about his in-game decisions, but the voters don’t follow him that closely. The usual criterion is getting the most out of the least amount of talent, and by that standard, anyone who could take a team that hasn't had a winning season in 20 years and turn them into one of the elite teams in baseball is a virtual shoe-in.
• For most of the same reasons, Neal Huntington had the Executive of the Year crown locked down even before his late-season acquisitions of Byrd and Morneau — moves that have already paid dividends.
• The race for Comeback Player of the Year should be equally anticlimactic. I was watching MLB TV the other day and someone asked Mitch Williams whether Francisco Liriano should be in the discussion for that award, and his response was, "Dude, that discussion is already over." If he does nothing more this season, being able to come in off the scrap heap and turn in a season for ages assures him the Comeback award.
• If not more. Going for his 16th win tonight, Liriano will get enough starts in September to challenge for 20 wins. If he makes it — considering he missed the first month of the season — he should win the Cy Young Award in a cakewalk. He's currently tied for the league lead in wins with Jorge de la Rosa, Jordan Zimmerman and Adam Wainright, but his peripherals are better. Clayton Kershaw is having a dominant season peripherally, but his 14-9 record is pretty pedestrian compared to Liriano's 15-6, and he can’t make the excuse, like Felix Hernandez, that he plays on a bad team. Kershaw could still pull it out, but if Liriano continues to pitch like he has been and finishes up with 20 or more wins, he’ll get the hardware just by virtue of being the better story.
• Which brings us to the MVP Award, which Cutch is in excellent position to capture this year after finishing third a season ago. Outside of decreased power numbers, he has every other credential you could ask for. Average? Check. Stolen bases? Yep. RBIs? Enough. A Gold Glover at a premium defensive position? You betcha. But even more than that, Cutch is the unchallenged leader of the best story in baseball this year and one of the most entertaining players in baseball to watch. Most analysts say his strongest competition might be Kershaw, but again, I've already got Liriano winning the Cy Young. If Kershaw isn’t even the best pitcher, how on earth is he the MVP?
OK, so it’s not exactly a clean sweep. We don’t have a Rookie of the Year candidate. But in terms of individual awards, we could — should — be headed to the most celebrated postseasons in MLB history.