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Demilio: Andrew McCutchen Where He Should Have Been All Along

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Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — To say the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense had been struggling over the last week would be the undersell of the year.

During their six-game losing streak, the Pirates had scored a total of nine runs. That’s an average of 1.5 runs per game. That won’t result in too many wins.

In need of a jolt, manager Derek Shelton turned to Andrew McCutchen to handle leadoff duties in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

While the Pirates managed only four runs, which is hardly earthshattering, they did enough to secure a 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers for their first win since last Sunday.

It was McCutchen who provided the spark from the top spot of the lineup, the first time he found himself there on the season.

After Jared Jones threw a 1-2-3 top of the first inning, McCutchen led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run to center field. He followed up the leadoff blast with two more hits and finished the night 3 for 4.

“I mean, you got to switch it up every now and then,” McCutchen said. “So, I guess it just took me leading off. So, it’s nice to get the win and to be able to show up, start things off for the team. Yeah, it was nice.”

Though the leadoff spot is new for McCutchen in 2024, it’s not an unfamiliar role. Last year, McCutchen started 22 games atop the Pirates’ lineup and there are reasons why.

McCutchen is exactly what you want from a leadoff hitter in today’s game. He draws his walks and gets on base at a high clip, better than anyone else in the Pirates’ lineup. For those with the old-school view, McCutchen can still move pretty well, too.

For McCutchen, it doesn’t really matter where his name is in the lineup.

“Hey, as long as I’m playing, that’s all that matters.” he said. “I don’t care about where I’m playing or where I hit. As long as I’m in there, doing my job, trying to help the team. So, hit me leadoff, hit me —I don’t care, it’s fine.”

While McCutchen might not care where he is in the lineup, the Pirates should, and the top spot is exactly where he belongs.

Sure, McCutchen is still a capable run producer, but his ability to get on base provides even more value, especially given the Pirates’ struggles.

Oneil Cruz had been the Pirates’ primary leadoff hitter for the Pirates for much of this season. That decision never made much sense to me, even before he was struggling.

Cruz does some things really well on the field. He can run, he throws extremely hard and he has light-tower power.

What Cruz does not necessarily do well is get on base. For his career, the 25-year-old carries a .298 on-base percentage and an 8.1% walk rate. Both marks are below league-average.

Though the Pirates dropped Cruz to the bottom third of the lineup given his struggles, even a non-slumping Cruz profiles better as a middle of the lineup bat.

His aggressiveness could prove beneficial to the Pirates given their passive nature in scoring opportunities.

Cruz himself had a big night in Monday’s win, going 3 for 4 with a pair of crucial RBIs.

“Hopefully he can build off of today and stay where he’s at,” McCutchen said on Cruz’s performance. “That’s what I’m here for, just to keep reminding him, just to stay where he’s at, try not to do too much. It’s okay to get jammed and get a hit. It’s okay to hit one 111 off the end of the bat, too. So yeah man, it’s great. So, hopefully we can keep that up.”

If Cruz can indeed build off a much-needed performance and live up to his potential and McCutchen can return to last year’s version of himself, the Pirates need to keep it simple with the lineup construction moving forward.

McCutchen bats leadoff, Cruz anchors the middle.

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