Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 6/25/12

The Weekend Takeaway
In the March 5 BP First Take, I wrote, “On the heels of his first All-Star Game appearance last season, [Andrew McCutchen] has the potential to contend for MVP honors in the near future.” That wasn’t exactly the boldest of predictions, given McCutchen’s talent and career path, and it appears the near future has arrived.

After a relatively slow start, the 25-year-old McCutchen delivered a remarkable .360/.424/.709 May, displaying the tools that earned him a six-year, $51.5 million extension roughly three months earlier. What’s even more impressive, though, is that he has sustained that gaudy pace through 21 games in June.

Through 81 at-bats this month, McCutchen has five homers, five doubles, and two triples, good for a .358/.418/.654 triple slash that ranks 10th among players with at least 50 plate appearances. Joey Votto—perhaps McCutchen’s main rival in the NL MVP race at the moment—is the only player who has produced a higher OPS than the Pirates’ center fielder in both May and June.

Though he went 0-for-4 against Justin Verlander on Sunday, McCutchen powered the Pirates to a series win over the Tigers with a three-run homer on Saturday and a 3-for-4 effort in Friday’s opener. That enabled Pittsburgh to climb to within a game of first-place Cincinnati, and to improve to 38-33 on the year, three games ahead of its 35-36 record through 71 games in 2011.

McCutchen was paid this offseason to emerge as a star, to develop into the face of the Pirates franchise, and to lead the team’s return to contention. So far, he’s a resounding 3-for-3.

What to Watch for on Monday

  • The Indians fell back out of first place with their loss to the Astros on Sunday, and things won’t get any easier for Manny Acta’s squad this week, beginning with a three-game series in the Bronx. Cleveland scored just four runs against the Astros over the weekend, and the offense will now look to bounce back behind leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo, who has hit .295/.357/.506 since moving to the top of the order. Choo has smacked righties around to the tune of a .312/.390/.526 line to date, and he gets a favorable matchup with Hiroki Kuroda toeing the rubber for the Yankees (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • After scuffling in April and May, Colby Rasmus has been on fire since June 3, raising his OPS 102 points over the past three weeks. The Blue Jays center fielder has multiple hits in five of his last eight games, including four home runs, the most recent of which was a three-run shot in Saturday’s win. Despite his hot streak, Rasmus continues to be challenged by left-handed pitching, and Red Sox southpaw Felix Doubront will try to cool him off in the series opener (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • Stephen Strasburg has won each of his last six starts, and he has recorded double-digit strikeouts in two of his last three. The hard-throwing righty is a perfect 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 43 innings on the road this season. He gets the ball in game one of a four-game set at Coors Field tonight (8:40 p.m. ET).
  • Three games separate the first-place Dodgers and the second-place Giants in the NL West standings as those two teams kick off a three-game series at AT&T Park. Barry Zito has plummeted back to earth in his last three outings, watching his ERA rise from 2.98 to 4.35 while serving up five home runs and logging a 6-to-8 K/BB over 14 1/3 innings. He’ll attempt to get back on track against a Dodgers offense that has plated just 15 runs in its last seven games (10:15 p.m. ET).


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