Sunday Paper (Year 4, Volume XVIX)
A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from a Texas radio broadcaster about Josh Hamilton.
He had gotten a hit (Hamilton, not the broadcaster), and the tweeter was already comparing Hamilton's performance to Matt Kemp - the hit left both players tied with .451 batting averages.
What the tweet implied was that those were the only two hitters in the league tearing it up offensively.
The problem was: at the time, David Wright was still hitting at a .500 clip.
But even still, there are a handful of other players making a run at keeping their batting averages at or above .400 a month into the season.
And I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of them are still in the hunt much, much later in the season.
Now, I realize that the difference between someone like David Wright or Derek Jeter and guys like Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton is that while the former can certainly make a run at a batting title (at least this year - read on), the latter are Triple Crown candidates.
And I know perhaps it's a little too early to be thinking along these lines - guys have hot months where they can hit .400 quite often...keeping that up for a full six months is a different story.
But for me - it's certainly something to keep an eye on this year. (Let's get this out of the way right now: I'm not talking from a Joe Sheehan numbers-tell-the-story point of view here - this is old-school 'gut feeling' baseball I'm talking.)
Matt Kemp, David Wright, Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton, and Bryan LaHair (he's on the Cubs) all entered the weekend hitting at or right near .400, and despite rough Saturdays (of course they knew I was going to write this) that saw their averages dip, they're still the top five hitters in the Majors, average-wise. (I'll give Kemp and Hamilton their due - they're also 1-2 in homers.)
And while it's certainly easier at this stage of the season to see your average dip dramatically than it is to maintain it above .400, outside of LaHair these are established, good hitters. They might be able to maintain the necessary pace to make a run late into the season. (How easy is it to fall off the .400 pace? A week ago Jose Altuve of the Astros and David Ortiz of the Red Sox were in this conversation. They're still hitting well, but they seem to have fallen out of the race for .400. And to be quite honest, Wright may have on Saturday as well.)
Who has the best chance? Well, as much as I like the way Wright is swinging the bat so far this season, his tendency to press (remember a couple of weeks ago when he was chasing the team RBI record and started slumping?) might cause him to fall short...that is, if he keeps from turning into his high-strikeout, streaky self in the first place. Jeter has handled tons of pressure in other ways throughout his career - and he's a Yankee. It seems like he should get a .400 season under his belt before he retires just to cap everything else.
Hamilton and Kemp have been talked about from the get-go this season as the front-runners for their respective leagues' MVP awards. They've certainly backed up that talk with their play so far. But Hamilton will have to stay healthy. And Kemp is going to need the rest of his lineup to continue to help him out so that he isn't pitched around as the only threat for the Dodgers as the season goes on.
One of the most thrilling parts of being a baseball fan is seeing certain milestones reached. That was one of the heartbreaks of the baseball strike in 1994 - that we couldn't see Tony Gwynn, who carried a .394 average into August, make his run at .400. As we get going in May, we've got a handful of players to watch who might make this the first season in 71 years where a hitter gets that elusive .400 mark.
*Update: After a 1-for-4 Saturday, Jon Jay of the Cardinals had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting average leaderboard. He's the lone major leaguer still above .400...and now worthy of being mentioned in this conversation.*
*You know who nobody seems to have a bad word to say about? Gio Gonzalez. I've watched the Nationals a few times this year (well, more than a few, but I guess I mean to say that I've heard this mentioned a few times) and it's been said quite often that no one is more willing to share a smile, chat with a clubhouse worker, or is more enthusiastic about playing baseball. That's nice to hear. It's also probably not too hard to be so happy when you're off to the kind of start he's off to, and playing for a team as exciting as Washington.
*Sure wouldn't mind if the New York Rangers would make things easy once in a while. First the triple overtime Wednesday night, which, even though I fell asleep while watching the third OT, still screwed up my sleep schedule the rest of the week, then another series knotted at 2 games apiece after Saturday's loss. Hopefully this time they pull out the Game 5 win and wrap up the series in 6 games. I'm still enjoying the NHL Playoffs, but I'd enjoy them as much if it weren't so tense. I can do without a seventh game this round.
*As part of a new cable package we got over here I now have the NHL Network. Saturday night I happened past a show called "Road To Victory: The New York Rangers", about the 1993-1994 New York Rangers' Stanley Cup championship. Only saw the last 45 minutes or so, but it was awesome. I'm hoping I can catch it again sometime soon. But it also reminded me that that Rangers playoff run was just as tense...it also made me think a win this year would be just as sweet.