PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) -- There are a number of reasons the Pirates have been the talk of Major League Baseball in 2013, so determining the team MVP is no easy debate.
Freelance writer and Yahoo! Sports contributor Jared Stonesifer recently weighed enough evidence to make convincing cases for five different players, including the obvious front-runner, All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
It's ironic that the National League MVP buzz surrounding McCutchen seemed stronger last season (he finished third in the voting), and yet this season, with his numbers slightly closer to career norms, he might have a better shot at the award--especially if St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is out long-term.
Not only is Cutch the only Pirate batting over .300, but since leadoff man Starling Marte cooled off after a piping-hot April, he's the only one to do it with any degree of consistency. Including Tuesday's thriller at PNC Park, in which he belted a crucial two-run double, the Pirates are playing over .700 baseball in games in which he drives in a run.
On a team that doesn't have a ton of raw power, and isn't living and dying by the long ball as it did in 2012, it's very easy for third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who blasted a game-tying RBI triple Tuesday, to stand out as well.
Alvarez, coming off his first-ever All-Star appearance, led the National League with 27 home runs entering Tuesday. Last year he hit 30 on the nose thanks to a similar mid-season surge, and he is currently on pace to join Willie Stargell and Ralph Kiner as the only other Pirates to register a 40-homer campaign.
Meanwhile, new starting catcher and Yankee free agent Russell Martin, for whom the Pirates, bucking history, outspent the Bombers, has proven to be worth every penny.
Despite a pedestrian batting average, he has delivered key at-bats during the Bucs' ongoing homestand, and throughout the season, and has stolen the National League's defensive spotlight from division rival Molina. Martin leads the NL with 26 runners caught stealing while playing for a team just one year removed from having nagging problems controlling baserunners.
He has also meshed well with a pitching staff that led the National League with a 3.09 team ERA entering Tuesday.
Speaking of which, Stonesifer points to starters Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke, each of whom have contributed to the Pirates' hot streak, as other prime candidates for team MVP.
Liriano, who debuted May 11 after an off-season fraught with free agency and injury, has been one of the pleasant surprises in the league. Though he technically needs to toss a few more innings to qualify, his 2.02 ERA ranks second in the National League only to that of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, and Liriano was named NL Player of the Week after wins against the Cardinals and Rockies in which he struck out 14 and allowed one earned run through 14 innings.
Young Locke, though regressing a bit in the second half of the season, has also embraced pitcher-friendly PNC Park. The 25-year-old righty made his first All-Star appearance this year and went 4-1 with a 3.02 ERA at home entering Tuesday.
On Tuesday he minimized early damage, holding the Miami Marlins to three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision, and left the door open for a Pirate rally.
The Pirates (68-45) maintain a two-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central after Tuesday's 4-3 walk-off win over the Marlins at PNC Park.
Click here to read Stonesifer's full commentary.
The Bucs and Fish continue their three-game set Wednesday night at 7:05, with "Pirates Preview" with Dan Zangrilli and Kevin Orie, beginning at 5:40, on your flagship home of Pirates baseball, SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.
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