NEW CASTLE —
The selections for the Major League All-Star Game were announced on Sunday and, not surprisingly, Andrew McCutchen led the way as the top vote-getter in the National League.
McCutchen is certainly deserving with great stats and a leadership mentality. But for all the good he does, which is a lot, his late game at-bats are sometimes frustrating, especially when the Pirates are trailing. He needs to get away from trying to hit the game-winning home run, as he often swings out of his shoes in those situations.
The Pirates are actually built to win such games these days, with a solid lineup that is producing in the top half of the National League in all offensive categories. With guys like Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Neil Walker all hitting the ball well, McCutchen no longer has to do it all on his own.
•Josh Harrison and Tony Watson were the two other Buccos to get the call for the All-Star game and both are worthy of the honor. Harrison has done it all for the Pirates, and probably is deserving of a starting spot over his current role as super-sub. Watson has been stellar out of the bullpen and he too, probably deserves an expanded role as closer. However, it’s not often that a utility guy and middle reliever make the All-Star game, showing just how valuable they’ve been to a team on the rise.
•Back to Harrison — there are no easy answers as to where to play him. With the exception of first base, which Harrison doesn't play, every other position player brings something to the table from the offensive side. The most obvious answer is to put him at third base, as Pedro Alvarez has struggled at the plate and leads the league in errors. However, it’s hard to sit a guy who led the league in home runs last year. In an ideal world, the Buccos could put Harrison at third and move Alvarez to first since all but one of his errors have been of the throwing variety. In other words, he can catch but can’t throw, which means first base would be the perfect spot for him. The other option is to trade Alvarez and hope that he brings a quality pitcher or first basemen in return. Regardless of what decision is made, Harrison has to continue to get at-bats at any cost.
•As for Watson, it’d be nice to give him a shot at closing, but if not, an even better option would be for the Pirates to trade for San Diego Padres closer Houston Street. He’s 23 for 24 on saves this season and should be available from a struggling Padres team. It’d probably take a top prospect to get him, but it would show the fans that the Pirates are serious about winning right now by stabilizing a shaky, at times, bullpen.
•Last week, the Pirates had their annual “Dog Day” (not the official name I’m sure) at PNC Park during a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Based on the airplay they received, it appeared that hundreds, if not thousands of pooches showed up for the game. “Dog Day” just happened to fall on the hottest day of the year, with temperatures in the 90s. In one shot, a woman was holding a large dog as she sat in the stands, and somewhat miraculously, was smiling even though her core temperature had to be close to 300 degrees. I’m not sure which lucky employee drew the short straw, but I’m going to bet someone was pretty ticked off with clean-up duty that night.
•Root Sports, the main provider of televised Pirate games, has taken criticism over the years for its over-reliance on showing fans (and dogs) in the stands, especially during crucial moments of the games. They have also taken heat for the thousands of in-game shots of Clint Hurdle chewing his over-sized wad of gum in the dugout. Those things are annoying, but here is my question: How does Root Sports even make money off the broadcast? I’ve been paying close attention during inning breaks over the past week, and three out of every four commercials are made by and promoting Root Sports. I’m not an advertising guru by any means, but if I were in charge there, finding a few more sponsorships during the telecast would be my first priority.
•If anyone has been paying close enough attention, tell me that the tech guy who takes the headsets out to umpires during replays at PNC Park doesn’t look like John Belushi from the movie “Animal House.”