Monday, July 9, 2012

Game 85: A.J. Burnett wins again, Andrew McCutchen preps for HR Derby

The unofficial end of the first half of the Major League Baseball season is here. For the first time in a long time, Pittsburgh Pirates fans are looking forward to the break being over rather than taking a break themselves from the normal struggles of the team. This team is in first place. Not only are they in first place, they have the second best record in the league. For my generation, the 20 something year old Pittsburgher, that's just unbelievable.

A.J. Burnett's string of eight straight wins ended his last time out. But the Pirates still won that game so the streak of consecutive winning decisions was still alive. And it was extended to nine on Sunday with another dominant performance. He only allowed two hits through the first six innings. One of those hits was a bloop single by Melky Cabrera in the first inning. Then the seventh inning saw Pablo Sandoval hit a two run home run after a Buster Posey double. Shortly after Burnett was replaced and walked off the field to a standing ovation from the sold out crowd at PNC Park.

The two run home run by Sandoval would have mattered if the Pirates' offense hadn't already given them a ten run lead going into that inning. Tim Lincecum is just having a disaster of a season. The former Cy Young winner has an ERA over six this season and an ERA over eight on the road. He struggled again on Sunday. Neil Walker doubled and advanced to third on a wild pitch with one out in the first inning. Andrew McCutchen followed with his first of two home runs in the game to right field. Walker hit a solo home run of his own to straight away center field in the third.

The fourth inning is the one that really got away from Lincecum. Casey McGehee led off the inning with a single. Rod Barajas walked with one out and Clint Barmes singled to load the bases for Burnett. He hit a ball that would have been an inning ending double play every day for the past 19 years but this one found a hole and allowed a run to score and chased Lincecum from the game. Clay Hensley came in and got Drew Sutton to fly out but that scored another run. Then Walker singled to score Barmes. All six Pirate runs to that point were charged to Lincecum.

Jeremy Affeldt took over to pitch the fifth inning for the San Francisco Giants to give them a lefty-lefty match-up against Garrett Jones. But he is too hot and this team is too hot. Jones singled the other way and advanced to third on a double by McGehee. Affeldt retired the next two batters before Barmes singled to bring home another run.

If this were little league, the game would have been over in the sixth inning. Former teammate of Burnett with the Florida Marlins, Brad Penny, came on to pitch. With one out, he surrendered back to back singles to Walker and McCutchen. With two outs in the inning, McGehee hit what should have been a double to score two runs. However, it was only a single. McGehee had to be removed from the game with a mild groin strain. Gorkys Hernandez came on to run for McGehee and advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored when Pedro Alvarez was safe at first on an error by Ryan Theriot.

McCutchen tacked on two more runs with his second home run of the game and 18th of the season in the seventh inning. McCutchen will be competing in the Home Run Derby on Monday night as part of the All-Star Game festivities as a replacement for the injured Giancarlo Stanton. Alvarez also scored in the eighth inning off of a single by Brad Lincoln and another error by the Giants. That was the final run of the first place Pirates' 13-2 victory.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 11 games over .500 and in first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. They have a legitimate MVP candidate in McCutchen. They have two legitimate Cy Young contenders in Burnett and James McDonald. Instead of trading star players, there are talks of them acquiring one. This is the year.

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