Barring a late-season win streak, the Pirates will surely clinch their 20th consecutive losing season. Just like last year, the season will end with an epic collapse to erase what was a competitive four months of baseball.
And yet, there is one major difference between last year's collapse and this year.
Andrew McCutchen is still playing at an All-star level. He hasn't put up the same numbers we saw in May and June but asking a player to hit 7-8 home runs while batting .370 is asking for the almost impossible.
Still, McCutchen has hit .304/.397/.488 since the break with 10 home runs and 33 RBI's. After a slump in August where he hit .252, McCutchen rebounded to hit .288 and six homers with his most recent bomb giving him 30 on the year.
Last year, McCutchen hit .291/.390/.505 in the first half of the season. That was followed by a tremendous second half slump where he hit .216/.330/.392. In an article published by ESPN earlier this season, Andrew McCutchen admitted he tried to do too much in 2011. The more the team struggled, the more he tried to overcompensate their deficiencies.
This season, McCutchen is hitting .336/.406/.564 with 30 home runs, 93 RBI's and 19 stolen bases. He leads the NL in OBP, runs and batting average while registering in the top ten in home runs, RBI's and OPS. At the end of July he was considered the runaway favorite to win the NL MVP Award.
Unfortunately, that is not the case and you know what? It's not entirely his fault.
The MVP award is usually handed to a player on a winning team and two months ago, that's exactly the team Andrew McCutchen was leading. Now, Ryan Braun seems to have taken over as the frontrunner. Braun's 40 home runs and 108 RBI's lead the NL as the Brewers continue to climb the standings for a Wild-Card spot.
With the Pirates heading in the opposite direction, McCutchen's spotlight is fading in the 2012 season. For the most part, he's done enough to win ballgames and he's certainly given the local fans an even bigger reason to be excited. But, he's not a starting pitcher, nor is he a reliever in a high pressure situation. His MVP resume is good enough on numbers, alone. But the Pirates have lacked the wins and as hard as McCutchen may try to will this team to victory, he cannot do it all by himself. He needed guys like James McDonald to stay consistent from start to start instead of folding like a cheap suit once the All-Star festivities ended. He needed the bullpen to stay sharp over the course of the year. He needed the $5 million dollar shortstop to make less than 16 errors.
That didn't happen and now the Pirates are a sinking ship with Andrew McCutchen and a select few stranded on an island of losing.
Maybe next season, the Pirates will finally be able to maintain winning from April-October. Maybe Andrew McCutchen will continue to get better and raise his game to the next stratosphere. Until then, McCutchen's MVP status will have to wait and unfortunately, some of the reasons are out of his control.