Update: Andrew McCutchen suffered a fractured rib but has not yet been placed on the disabled list, per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh News-Tribune. The exact injury:
Some clarification: McCutchen has an avulsion fracture of 11th rib. He described it as cartilage torn away from rib....not a bone fracture— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) August 5, 2014
McCutchen said he does not know whether the injury came after he was hit by a pitch by the Diamondbacks on Saturday, television station KDKA in Pittsburgh reports.
However, the HBP may not have been the cause.
Just now received follow-up text from trainer saying McCutchen injury probably NOT from HBP. Injury is ligament or tendon pulling from bone.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 5, 2014
The Pittsburgh Pirates are expected to place Andrew McCutchen on the 15-day DL, and the star center fielder could miss up to a month with an oblique strain, according to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
McCutchen suffered the injury on Sunday when he took a swing and hit a sacrifice fly against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. The 27-year-old clutched his left side while jogging to first base and needed help walking off the field before exiting the game.
Losing McCutchen for any amount of time is clearly a big blow to the Pirates' playoff chances in a tight NL Central race. Pittsburgh currently sits in third place, just 1½ games behind the division-leading Brewers. However, with the Cardinals a half-game ahead of Pittsburgh for second, and the Reds just 4½ back in fourth place, the Bucs have plenty of work left to do before earning their second straight postseason berth.
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A four-time All-Star and the reigning NL MVP, McCutchen has been his usual stellar self in 2014 for the Pirates. He has batted .311/.411/.536 over 109 games this season with 17 home runs among his 54 extra-base hits. Having played in at least 154 games for each of the last four seasons, the injury (and a potential month-long DL stint) is a rare occurrence for McCutchen.
The Pirates have no way of fully replacing McCutchen's production in the lineup, but they do boast solid depth in the outfield. Josh Harrison's breakout season has been a key reason why Pittsburgh is challenging for the playoffs in a crowded divisional race, and they have the luxury of activating Starling Marte off the 7-day concussion DL for Tuesday night's game against the Marlins.
Even so, losing McCutchen, who was a candidate for a second straight MVP award, is damaging to the Pirates' lineup. Rookie Gregory Polanco has cooled off after a strong first month in the big leagues and is batting .236/.295/.355 since the beginning of July. Pedro Alvarez has struggled to replicate his power production from a year ago, and without McCutchen, Pittsburgh's lineup lacks few legitimate hitters outside of Harrison, Russell Martin, and Neil Walker.
Whether McCutchen does miss a month remains to be seen. There is a chance, of course, he can return to full health sooner than that, although oblique injuries are notoriously fickle to rehab from. Either way, the Bucs' playoff hopes will take a hit every time their star center fielder is not penciled into the lineup.