Pirates-Rockies Preview

Andrew McCutchen’s major league-leading batting average and

dizzying production are the biggest reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates

are pressing for the NL Central lead.

McCutchen looks to put on another hitting display at Coors Field

on Wednesday when the Pirates and Colorado Rockies conclude their

three-game set.

McCutchen’s .374 average is the highest in baseball by 19 points

over the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout, and the center fielder’s

65 RBIs are one off Carlos Beltran’s NL lead.

He has taken a huge step forward after hitting just .259 last

year, and his next home run will match his career-high total of 23

from 2011. McCutchen has gone deep six times in his last six games,

and he’s hitting .500 with nine homers, 19 RBIs and 24 runs in his

past 16 contests, with the Pirates (50-40) winning 12 of those.

“He’s doing things that are impressive,” manager Clint Hurdle

told the team’s official website. “He’s found a stroke with which

he is in a good place. It’s been fun to watch.”

Visiting Denver has kept McCutchen red hot. He has four hits

while Pittsburgh and Colorado (35-55) have split the first two

games of this series, and he homered for the third time in his last

five games at Coors Field in Tuesday’s 6-2 win as the Pirates

became the fourth team in the NL to 50 wins.

“It’s a mile marker along the way,” Hurdle said. “There’s a

bunch of people in there who planned on getting there earlier than

we did.”

The Pirates are second in the Central, one game back of

first-place Cincinnati.

Hurdle hopes James McDonald (9-3, 2.59 ERA) can rebound from one

of his worst performances of the season and perhaps pull Pittsburgh

even with the Reds.

The right-hander, who has already matched his win total from 31

starts last year, allowed a season-high five runs along with five

walks and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings while not getting a decision

in Friday’s 10-7 loss at Milwaukee. He had won his previous four

starts behind a 2.51 ERA while issuing seven walks in 28 2-3

innings.

McDonald is 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA in his last three starts versus

the Rockies, but they all came at home. He allowed five runs in

five innings in his only previous start in Denver, a win in 2009

with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Colorado has dropped five of seven at home, and giving the ball

to Jeremy Guthrie (3-9, 6.14) doesn’t seem like the best path to

improvement.

The right-hander is 1-5 with a 9.23 ERA in eight home games –

six starts. Opponents are hitting .365 against him with 12 homers

in 39 innings in Denver.

Guthrie’s struggles continued Saturday, when he surrendered four

runs in the opening inning against Philadelphia at Coors Field. He

didn’t allow any more runs and ended up pitching 4 2-3 innings, but

he still took the loss in an 8-5 defeat.

“I got the longest scoreless streak of my career at Coors, so

there are a lot of positives to build on – a career low in runs

allowed in a start as well,” Guthrie told the Rockies’ official

website. “You’ve got to take what you can.”

He was charged with a 9-3 road loss while with Baltimore in his

only start against the Pirates on June 21, 2011, allowing six runs

and 11 hits in 6 1-3 innings. McCutchen singled and walked twice

against him.