Andrew McCutchen Opens Up on “Capable” 2024 Pittsburgh Pirates

Now the elder leader of the clubhouse, Andrew McCutchen believes the Pittsburgh Pirates can get back to the postseason.

Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after hitting a two run home run in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 22: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after hitting a two run home run in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on August 22, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Not long after hitting a 448-foot home run on a seasonal June night at Coors Field, Andrew McCutchen was standing in the visitors’ clubhouse in Denver. He was taking in the moments after his Pittsburgh Pirates recorded a 5-2 win over the Rockies to open a three-game series in mid-June.

A smile crept across the 37-year-old’s face as he not only talked about his blast (his longest since Statcast began tracking home runs nine seasons ago) but also about these Pirates, who are keeping themselves squarely in the National League Wild Card conversation heading into July.

“I could hit it further, too, if I wanted,” McCutchen joked about his blast over the center field wall.

While McCutchen may be thinking about the distances of his individual exploits, his mind is clearly also focused on just how far this Pirates team could go in 2024 if things fall right.

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“We can do it, man,” McCutchen said. “We’re in a position where we haven’t played really good baseball since, obviously, the beginning of the season. We are still in a position where we can we can do some special things, so we need to set ourselves up to be in a spot where we can get ourselves going.”

Pittsburgh entered Monday’s series opener in Cincinnati against the Reds with a 37-40 record, good enough to be 1.5 games back of the final Wild Card spot in what is becoming a wide-open race in the NL. McCutchen has certainly done his part, shaking off a struggle-filled April to slash .277/.364/.468 in 107 May plate appearances.

The numbers may be slightly below that level in June, but McCutchen keeps adding, not only to Pittsburgh’s offense but also his own milestones, which put him in elite MLB company.

The man known as “Cutch” was prolific during his heyday with the Pirates, earning NL MVP honors in 2013 as part of a run in which he finished in the top five for four consecutive seasons. It was also a time when he starred in one of the more famous ESPN commercials of the decade.

However, much has happened since those days, including his being traded twice in 2018 and moving around the league with additional stops in Philadelphia and Milwaukee before returning to the Steel City prior to the 2023 campaign.

Now that he’s back in black and gold, and a free agent at the end of this season (although he wants to play again in 2025), McCutchen knows the chance to make a deep postseason run with the Pirates is something that is not only deeply desired, but he believes possible as well.

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“We can be in a really good spot to the second half of the season,” McCutchen said. “It’s about us trusting each other and knowing we are a good ball club and that we can compete with any team. It doesn’t take much. We play the Dodgers well. We play the Braves well. That’s never been our issue. We play good teams well. We have to learn how to continue to do that, even against the teams that aren’t the Dodgers.

“It’s understanding that we have a team that can compete with the good teams, but we also have to maintain that level with the teams that are under .500. We have to play the same type of baseball. We do that, we win the games that we’re supposed to win, then we set ourselves up. It’s understanding that and knowing that we need to keep keeping the energy at a good level and do what we need to do.”

On most nights, McCutchen and Bryan Reynolds (who, ironically, came to Pittsburgh in the 2018 trade with the San Francisco Giants that sent McCutchen to the Bay Area) are teaming up to form a duo at the top of the Pirates lineup.

While McCutchen sets the tone at the top of the order, Reynolds has become one of MLB’s hottest hitters in recent days. Reynolds is hitting .350 (28-for-80) with seven doubles, a triple, five home runs and 13 RBI during his career-high 20-game hitting streak that he brought into Monday’s opener in Cincinnati. Reynolds’ hitting streak is the longest by a Pirate in a single season since 2004 when Jason Kendall hit safely in 20 straight games.

“He understands what he can do,” McCutchen said of Reynolds. “I’m sure he’s not satisfied with where he’s at. He wants to continue to excel and do better. I’m right there with him, trying to compete with him. And I think that it’s good for us at the top of the order having that inner competition with one another.”

Reynolds agrees.

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“It’s nice having Cutch up there with me to try to get things moving,” Reynolds said. “We want to get things started early in the game if possible. If not, we will just keep grinding away.”

Grinding away is what Cutch keeps doing with the Pirates, even though the player who takes the field now is a much different creature than the one who was competing for MVP honors a decade ago.

“If I have my legs under me, then I’m able to play the game I know I can,” McCutchen said. “There are days when my body’s not there. It shows on the field. There are strikeout days. That’s not to say that didn’t happen earlier in my career, because it happened then too. I’m just a little more heightened because you’re older. I may say, ‘I didn’t have my legs today,’ but there were days I didn’t have my legs when I was 25 either. You just shake it off and get ready for the next one and recover a little quicker. Now, with the advancements of recovery and learning things about your body and how you can get yourself back the next day or whatever, it’s very helpful.”

McCutchen’s physical attributes may have changed, and so has his role in the clubhouse.

“Being that voice for them, letting them understand that we’re a good team,” McCutchen said. “It’s reminding them of that. I was here when we were really good, and I know the type of team we had. I look at the lineup and say, ‘Hey, this team is no different than the one when we were winning.’ It’s nice for them to hear that.”

There is a long way for the present-day Pirates to go before they can match the 2015 squad that was the last Pirates team to make the postseason. However, McCutchen is going to keep bringing what he can to the team, on and off the field.

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“Wherever you play, it’s about having an opportunity to win,” McCutchen said. “Obviously, if we win here, that’s going to be special. We have a club that can do it. We have a club that’s capable. We have a staff that is capable. We just have to take care of business right now.”