PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen knows what it’s like to be part of a Pittsburgh Pirates team that is a laughingstock.
The 36-year-old outfielder also knows what it is like to be part of a Pirates team that goes to the postseason and captivates an entire region.
The Pirates lost 105 games in 2010, which was McCutchen’s first full season in the major leagues. They went from having the worst record in the major leagues to making three straight playoff appearances from 2013-15.
McCutchen played a large role in lifting the Pirates from the bottom to the top in his first stint with the organization. Now he is ready to run it back in his second go-round.
The Pirates are at the bottom again. They have finished last in the National League Central for four straight seasons and lost 101 and 100 games in the last two years.
Yet McCutchen can’t help but think what it would be like if he could help engineer another turnaround after signing a one-year, $5-million contract as a free agent on Jan. 20. He returns to the Pirates five years after being traded.
On Saturday, Andrew McCutchen talked about what it would be like to win again with the Pirates during a season ticketholder event at PNC Park.
“It would mean the world, not with (just) me, but it would mean the world to the fanbase as well,” McCutchen said. The fans here don’t want to see another 20 years of losing. They don’t want that to happen. I don’t want that to happen either.
“It’s a good group of guys. I haven’t gotten to meet everyone and talk to everyone yet, but when spring training rolls around, I’ll have that chance and opportunity. It would be special. It first starts in that clubhouse and on that field.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates would undoubtedly need a lot of things to go right to become contenders in 2023. However, general manager Ben Cherington has bolstered the roster with many off-season acquisitions.
And McCutchen is adamant that the Pirates are better than their record of 62-100 last season indicates. He got to see the Pirates up close last season by playing in the National League Central with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates swept a three-game series from the Brewers from Aug. 2-4 at PNC Park. The Brewers were leading the division by three games when they came to Pittsburgh but then went into a tailspin and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
“I was on a good team. Poised to make it to the playoffs. Poised to win the division,” McCutchen said. “That didn’t pan out, and part of the reason it didn’t is because we didn’t beat that ballclub over there. Couldn’t beat ’em. I honestly believe it. I was watching them score them in, (and thought) it’s a good ball club. If they weren’t good, they wouldn’t beat us.”
That series was one of the few high watermarks of the season for the Pirates. There were a lot of other teams they didn’t beat.
Yet McCutchen insists those three games were not an aberration.
“People can look at the record and say, ‘oh they lost 100 games,’ but I don’t believe in that,” he said. “Just because it says that doesn’t mean they’re a 100-loss ball club. I truly believe that they’re not.
“It’s about the backend of the bullpen closing things down. It’s about plating the runs, playing small ball. It’s about all these things that lead to being able to win. I understand, as a club, we’re going to have to do all the small things right to be consistent, pick each other up. That can lead to the success of the ballclub, and I truly believe that this club can do that.
“It’s just about us going out there and doing it,” McCutchen continued. “Take it day by day, being really consistent with it. Going out and surprising a lot of people.”
It would be easy to write off McCutchen’s words as nothing more than wintertime optimism.
However, I’ve known McCutchen a long time and he is not a BSer. He means what he says.
Whether McCutchen’s words become true remains to be seen but they provide hope, something in short supply for Pirates’ fans since he was sent away.