Hartsock: Buccos’ McCutchen is a lock for NL MVP

On Thursday, Andrew McCutchen will become just the second Pittsburgh Pirate player in the last 21 seasons to win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.

At the risk of eating a sizeable portion of crow, it says here that the Pirates’ star center fielder is a virtual lock for the honor.

For a number of reasons:

n McCutchen is the face of a Pirates’ franchise that made its first postseason appearance since 1992. That alone gives him a tremendous advantage in the balloting.

n McCutchen had a better overall season offensively in 2012 than he did in 2013, but his contributions this past season meant so much more. In 2013, McCutchen finished seventh in the National League in batting (.317), third in the league in hits (185), and sixth in the league in runs scored (97). He also hit 21 home runs and knocked in 84 runs.

n In 2013, McCutchen got stronger at the plate as the season progressed. His post All-Star batting average was .339, including a .384 clip in August and a .318 average in September, when the Pirates staged a spirited battle with the eventual National League champion St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the Central Division. McCutchen’s on-base percentage during those two months was .483 for August and .453 for September. He produced when it counted most.

n Two of the other strongest position-player candidates for the league MVP award, catcher Yadier Molina and second baseman Matt Carpenter – are both members of the same team, the Cardinals. That will work against both in the voting. Although Molina is an indispensable veteran leader and Carpenter led the NL in hits while providing pop and production from the leadoff spot in the batting order, it’s tough to single out one of them as the league’s top dog. The Cardinals also boasted plenty of firepower throughout their lineup, with one of the league’s RBI leaders in Allen Craig and top power threats in Matt Holliday. Too many weapons in St. Louis’ talent-laden batting order will stack the deck against the Cardinals.

n Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, who tied the Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez for the league lead in homers with 36, is another MVP candidate. But the Diamondbacks didn’t make the postseason, which will put Goldschmidt’s chances on the backburner.

n Without McCutchen in the lineup for any extended period of time, would the Pirates have won 94 games this season, or even 84, and made the playoffs? I think not.

On Thursday, Andrew McCutchen will become the first Pirate league MVP since Barry Bonds (1990, 1992).

Count on it.

John Hartsock can be reached at