PITTSBURGH – In kind of an odd twist, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have two fewer starters in the National League lineup in this year’s All-Star Game than two years ago.
The Pirates are markedly improved in 2023 with their 39-42 record at the midpoint of the season coming after four consecutive last-place finishes in the National League Central. Yet they won’t have any starts in this year’s Midsummer Classic, which will be held July 11 at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
In 2021, the Pirates went 61-101 but second baseman Adam Frazier and center fielder Bryan Reynolds were in the NL lineup in Denver. Both were deserving despite their team’s lousy record.
Major League Baseball rules dictate that each team in both leagues must have one representative at the All-Star Game. Whether the Pirates have only one player or maybe more on the NL squad will be known Sunday when MLB announces the pitchers and reserves for both leagues.
A case can be made for three Pirates to varying degrees.
The most obvious choice is closer David Bednar, who appeared in his first career All-Star last year in Los Angeles and got the game’s final out. He has converted 16 of 17 save opportunities and has a 1.44 ERA in 31 games.
Furthermore, Bednar’s WHIP is an outstanding 0.89 as he allowed just 24 hits and four walks in 31.1 innings. Two of those four bases on balls have been intentional.
Right-hander Mitch Keller should also get consideration with his 9-3 record and 3.34 ERA in 17 starts. The number that stands out the most about Keller is his 118 strikeouts in 105 innings.
Keller also has a fine WHIP with a 1.10 mark on 88 hits allowed and 28 walks.
The third player that a case can be made for is not quite so obvious — outfielder/designated hitter Andrew McCutchen, who has made a strong return to the Pirates five years after they traded him.
McCutchen has a .287/.399/.455 slash line with 10 home runs and nine stolen bases in 70 games. That’s quietly a pretty good season.
McCutchen has been one of the top DHs in the NL after the Los Angeles Dodgers’ J.D. Martinez, who will start for the NL. McCutchen admits he would like a return engagement to the All-Star Game following a seven-year absence since making five straight appearances from 2011-16.
“I’ve thought about it. I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it,” McCutchen said after the Pirates’ 8-7 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night at PNC Park. “But it’s not necessarily my call. But I feel like, as a DH in the National League, I feel like I’m hanging around with the majority of them. It would be cool if I was given the opportunity.”
It would also be a case for McCutchen to show he is still a premier player at age 36 after falling from the elite tier in some people’s eyes.
“The one person that didn’t give up was myself. I never gave up on myself,” McCutchen said. “You know, stats and numbers and projections and all that can say what they want to say. I know what I’m capable of doing. I’ve been working at it. I’m going to continue to keep working at it and continue to keep going, but it’s a little gratifying right now to have the year that I’m having.”
One other thing McCutchen has going for him is being one of the great storylines in MLB this season.
His Pittsburgh homecoming, which was so completely unexpected when last offseason began, has worked out better than anyone could have anticipated. He has played an integral part in transforming the Pirates from laughingstocks to respectability.
The All-Star Game is about entertainment as much as the competition. I’ve covered plenty of All-Star Games and World Series and the Midsummer Classic is a bigger spectacle.
McCutchen would certainly add to that.