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Kovacevic: Cutch for MVP ... and much more

| Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 11:05 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen celebrates with Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker after defeating the Marlins, 4-2, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is greeted at the plate by third baseman Pedro Alvarez after homering during the fourth inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen rounds the bases after homering during the fourth inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin celebrates with closer Mark Melancon after defeating the Marlins, 4-2, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Mark Melancon pitches against the Marlins during the ninth inning Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen steals second base ahead of a tag attempt by the Marlins' Adediny Hechavarria during the sixth inning Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton singlesduring the fifth inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer scores on a wild pitch during the fifth inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez throws out the Marlins' Tom Koehler during the third inning Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Petrina McCutchen sings the national anthem as her son, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, stands with catcher Tony Sanchez before a game against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton throws during the first inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen makes a diving catch during the seventh inning against the Marlins Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, at PNC Park.

A powerful case can be made through advanced analysis that Andrew McCutchen is pulling away from the pack to be National League MVP. Add up an array of offensive and defensive stats into the catch-all metric Wins Above Replacement, and the race looks like this:

1. Carlos Gomez, Brewers, 6.1 WAR

2. McCutchen, 5.9

3. David Wright, Mets, 5.6

4. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks, 5.2

5. Joey Votto, Reds, 5.1

In other words, it's no race at all at the moment.

Forget Gomez. He plays for a Milwaukee team that was rancid even before Ryan Braun's steroids suspension. Besides, most of Gomez's value would be hidden from voters more schooled in, say, RBI than WAR.

Wright's Mets are in the same category, and the fair-or-not truth about all MVP candidates on lousy teams is that they'd better be head-and-shoulders above those on winning teams. Even with Goldschmidt and Votto both on contenders, neither has risen above individually. Votto has the best shot at surging into a serious MVP duel, but it hasn't happened yet.

Don't overthink this: The MVP is in Cutch's clutches unless he drops it.

Not that he's inclined to discuss the matter.

“I did that last year, and it didn't turn out so well,” McCutchen said Wednesday at PNC Park before his 16th home run helped the Pirates past the Marlins, 4-2. And he had a fair point: Both he and the team plunged in the second half. “The way I look at it, all of that stuff will take care of itself at the end of the season. I'm just going to keep going.”

OK, since he won't say it, I will: It would be remarkable if it plays out per the script.

Half the reason for that, I'd say, is the place McCutchen would take in the 127-year-old Pittsburgh Baseball Club's pantheon. Only five Pirates have been MVP: Dick Groat (1960), Roberto Clemente (1966), Dave Parker (1978), Willie Stargell (1979, tied with the Cardinals' Keith Hernandez) and Skinny Barry Bonds (1990, '92). It should be noted the current form of the award — voted upon by the Baseball Writers Association of America — wasn't born until 1931 and that Paul Waner won an MVP “citation” in 1927. It also should be noted Honus Wagner, the greatest player in franchise history, would have piled up so many MVPs in the early 1900s the honor probably would be named for the Dutchman today.

But it's the other half of the reason that gets me because a McCutchen MVP would be unlike anything the above esteemed gentlemen achieved.

He changed the franchise.

There's a lot of credit being tossed around, all deserved. Without Clint Hurdle's steady hand or A.J. Burnett's fire or Francisco Liriano's filth or Russell Martin's smarts or Starling Marte's energy, this summer's team might not look different than past summers.

But McCutchen's been here all along. He was drafted in 2005 under Dave Littlefield when that alone used to be the kiss of death. A couple of years later upon being cut in spring training, he was livid when looking around a Bradenton clubhouse littered with lesser talent and told me, “I should be here.” In 2010, he was one of the few to hold his head high through a 105-loss disaster, and I recall what he said one September night in Miami: “You just have to keep playing, keep getting better. The rest's out of your control.”

That's Cutch. Rise above.

And now that the rest is finally under control, it's clear he never stopped getting better.

People wanted home runs?

He put out 31 last year, is on pace for 25 this year.

Stolen bases?

How's 24 for 29 after another easy one Wednesday?

Better defense?

One Gold Glove should soon be followed by another.

“The thing about Andrew,” Hurdle was saying Wednesday, “is that he's never satisfied.”

Oh, and people wanted a winner? Yeah, you've got that, too, and through a jagged path no other individual associated with the Pirates has walked.

Waner's MVP came two years after the Pirates won the 1925 World Series. Groat's came the same year as the next crown. Clemente's came six years later. Parker and Stargell were part of a decade-long power. Bonds was part of a three-time division champ.

No disrespect, but none of them really changed anything.

McCutchen is not only burnishing his own legacy but also healing the battered brand of an entire institution.

Be sure he grasps that, too.

“It takes more than just me to turn a team around. I'm just trying to do my part,” McCutchen said. “But yeah, being in this organization for so long, drafted by the Pirates, you can definitely appreciate what's happening now a little more than others can.”

The voters can show their appreciation this fall.

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