For the first time in a long time, the Pittsburgh Pirates went into the All-Star break on high note. And they have first-half MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen to thank for much of it.
The All-Star center fielder helped the Pirates finish the first half alone in first place in the National League Central and earned the game-changing moment of the week in the process.
On Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, McCutchen went off for two home runs in a 13-2 win that helped them take the series, win for the sixth time in their last seven games – and add to the woes of former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.
McCutchen's game-changing moment came early. In the bottom of the first inning with the game still scoreless, he sent a 3-2 pitch from Lincecum over the wall in right-center field for his 17th homer of the year, and a 2-0 Pirates lead.
McCutchen hit his 18th of the year in the seventh inning – after Lincecum was long gone – in a convincing 13-2 victory.
"I am not going up to bat to hit home runs," McCutchen said. "I am just trying to put good swings on balls and when I do that, depending on where the pitch is and how my swing is, some balls go out."
McCutchen will represent the NL in the Home Run Derby in Kansas City on Monday night. He is fourth in the NL in home runs and also first in average at .362, third in runs and third in RBIs.
Sunday's game was another forgettable one for Lincecum, though. He last only 3.1 innings, surrendered six earned runs and fell to 3-10 on the year.
"You never want to say, 'Hey, I've hit rock bottom,' or anything like that," Lincecum said. "But when things are going as bad as they are right now, you've kind of got to go out there like you've got nothing left to lose. Leave it all out there on the field and what happens, happens."
The rise of the Pirates is as surprising as the fall of Lincecum. Entering the break the Pirates are 48-37, one game ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for the division lead. They have the best home record in the major leagues at 29-14.
This year also marks the 20-year anniversary of their last winning season. In 1992, the Pirates won the NL East and lost the NLCS in seven games to the Atlanta Braves. Since then, they have finished last in their division nine times and have never won more than 79 games.
Tyler Colvin is finally making the most of his opportunity to play every day for the Colorado Rockies. The fourth-year utility man had a week to remember, belting five home runs and driving in 10 runs.
Colvin, who played parts of three seasons with the Cubs, has become a regular in the Rockies outfield. And if you think his impressive week was aided by the thin air in Colorado, think again. All of Colvin's games and home runs last week came on the road – and against stiff competition.
On Friday, Colvin became the first player to hit two home runs in a game off Washington Nationals star Stephen Strasburg. Colvin hit a solo homer in the second and a two-run shot in the fourth.
He's hitting .305 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs in 187 at-bats for the last-place Rockies.