Pirates return and Orioles ‘Crush’


With Andrew McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates may finally become winners. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

The Major League Baseball season is nearing the all-star break. I will give out my mid-season marks to the Nationals next week. This week, let’s look at some surprising baseball stories that have nothing to do with our Nats.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Poor Pittsburgh fans have not had a winning baseball team for 20 consecutive seasons. But this year, the Pirates are playing great. Led by all-star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and superb reliever Jason Grilli, the Pirates have one of the best records in baseball.

Can Pittsburgh make the playoffs? Probably, even though the National League Central Division, which also includes the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, is tough. Can the Pirates break their 20-season losing streak? Most definitely.

Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore had its first winning season since 1997 last year. Now, the Orioles are trying to show everyone that 2012 was no fluke.

Baltimore has a power-packed lineup that leads the majors in home runs. The question is whether the Orioles have enough pitching to stay near the top of the super-tough American League East Division. I’m not sure they can top the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

“Crush” Davis: One reason the O’s have a chance to go far is first baseman Chris “Crush” Davis. That nickname is no mistake. Davis had crushed 33 homers and driven in 85 runs after Tuesday night’s game.

Davis is a late-blooming slugger who didn’t play full time in the majors until last season. Now, Crush can’t stop hitting! The 27-year-old slugger may hit 50 or even 60 round-trippers this season.

Manny Machado: The Orioles have another star who is on a record-setting pace. Third baseman Manny Machado, who is just 21, may break a record that has been around since 1931: Earl Webb’s record for most doubles (67) in a season. Machado, who some think is the best young player in baseball, has 39 two-baggers so far.

Yasiel Puig: Oh, you haven’t heard of this guy? That may be because Puig has played only a little more than a month for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But, wow, what a month! The 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound outfielder from Cuba is hitting around .400 and impressing everyone with his speed, power and throwing arm.

Maybe major-league pitchers will figure out how to cool off the 22-year-old slugger, but my guess is that you had better learn how to pronounce this guy’s name. “Ya-SEE-el Pweeg” is going to be a star for a long time.

Surprise teams, new stars: There are plenty of reasons other than the Nationals to keep an eye on baseball this summer.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids, including the picture book “No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season.”

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