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The Strike Zone

Andrew McCutchen and Pirates on Sept. 9 national cover of Sports Illustrated

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports

For the first time in 21 years, the Pirates will finish with at least a .500 record, and for the second time this season their winning ways have landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

All-Star closer Jason Grilli was featured on the front of the July 22 issue and this time it's another of Pittsburgh's five All-Stars, centerfielder and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, who gets top billing. That's appropriate because McCutchen might be the single biggest reason the Pirates enter play on Wednesday with a two-game lead in the National League Central, chasing their first division title and playoff berth since 1992. McCutchen ranks in the top 10 in the NL in batting average (.320, fifth), on-base percentage (.399, third) and slugging percentage (.509, 10th) and leads all NL position players in WAR (7.1).

In the cover story, SI senior writer Lee Jenkins explores the team's two-decade long streak of futility and its relationship with the city, which has gone bonkers for the Buccos. Pittsburgh is on pace to reach two million in attendance for just the fifth time and will finish with at least the second-highest attendance total in the 127-year history of the franchise.

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