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Kovacevic: No panic in Pirates yet, but ...

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 9:59 p.m.
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez strikes out with the tying run on third base during the ninth inning against the Cubs on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez strikes out with the tying run on third base during the ninth inning against the Cubs on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

Andrew McCutchen wasn't exactly indignant. That would be miles out of character. But neither was he in any apparent mood to take too seriously the Pirates starting out 2013 by dropping two of three to the Cubs.

“It's early, man. It's three games into the season,” Cutch was saying Thursday after a late rally stalled into a 3-2 loss. “It's not like we're getting killed, 15-0. The games are close.”

Man speaks the truth: The Pirates scored six total runs in the series, same as Chicago, although that obviously isn't exactly a wealth of offense. There were 13 total hits for the home team, none in 10 at-bats from $17 million man Russell Martin, and two monumental duds for Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker to draw the curtain Thursday.

“The bats will come around,” Cutch continued. “And I think they'll come around a lot quicker than last year. We'll be fine.”

Right. About that …

See, it's one thing to look at these three games, weigh them as representing 1.9 percent of the schedule, and shrug them off.

It's quite another, though, when you look at what's about to hit head-on in the next five weeks: Start with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks on the road, and know that Los Angeles is 34-11 against the Pirates at Chavez Ravine since the Pirates' last series victory there in late 2000. They'll come home to the Reds, Cardinals and Braves, all three of which made the playoffs last fall. Back on the road to take on the still-loaded Phillies, the Cardinals again and the eternal nemesis Brewers, who have claimed 23 of the past 30 meetings. Finally, it's back here for the pennant-favored Nationals and improving Mariners.

Next opponent I can find that the Pirates legitimately should beat – that's should, not will — are the Mets on May 9-12.

If not New York, Triple-A Houston generously pays an interleague visit the following week.

So in that context, yeah, coming up short against the Cubs — who did nothing here to dispel the notion that they're the pits of the National League — that's magnified at least a little.

• Fun Friday Q: The Pirates and Penguins went head to head on TV two nights ago. The former was on Root Sports, the latter on little-seen NBC Sports Network. The Penguins were without main attraction Sidney Crosby and were blown out early by the Rangers.

Which game drew better local ratings?

Answer at end.

• No matter all this talent Ray Shero has added, the Penguins won't win one round, let alone the Stanley Cup, if Evgeni Malkin continues to put up more penalty minutes (32) than points (27).

And raise your hand if you called Malkin and Paul Martin being tied with six goals at this stage of the season.

Whatever Malkin's malaise, he needs to shake it off.

• Crosby absolutely should be MVP, even if he doesn't return in the regular season.

Never mind what he's meant to the Penguins (powerfully on display in the past two snoozefests, by the way). Consider that three of the five behind him in the scoring race are Chris Kunitz, who'd never be chosen over Crosby, and two from the non-playoff Lightning, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. That leaves the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane and the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf, neither of whom has been in Crosby's orbit. And unlike past years, no defensemen or goaltender is in the Hart conversation.

• Remember when everyone rated West Virginia's big-play receiver Tavon Austin as a first-round reach for the NFL Draft?

No more. The Lions, who pick fifth overall, had him in for a visit this week after a great showing at the combine and at the Mountaineers' pro day, and pundits suddenly are calling Austin a lock for the top 10.

The Steelers at 17th?

Yes, please. He'd be exactly what Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley had hoped Chris Rainey would be, only with more talent and without the baggage.

• Pitt fans will fret over Rushel Shell leaving, and there's cause: The running game will be mostly on Isaac Bennett, who isn't a feature type. But the players themselves are too busy buzzing over the spring play of strong-armed QB Tom Savage, and all this might lead to a more pro-looking offense.

“He puts the ball right where you want it, right in stride,” receiver Devin Street told me recently regarding Savage. “I can't say enough about what he's shown us.”

• Will Suzie McConnell-Serio cross town to lead Pitt women's hoops now that Agnus Berenato's out?

Not from what I'm hearing. She's happy at Duquesne and has her heart set on getting the Dukes into the NCAA Tournament for the first time. And, odd as it sounds, Duquesne actually is in a better position than Pitt with better players and an easier schedule in the Atlantic 10.

• Fun Friday answer: Kind of gave this away, huh?

Yeah, the Penguins registered a 10.1 rating, the Pirates 6.7.

Only in Pittsburgh.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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