It's July 1, the effective halfway point of the season, so it's time to take notice of what could be the American League's closest and most historic race. Miguel Cabrera has his batting eye on the first ever back-to-back Triple Crowns in baseball history. In his way is Chris Davis, himself right on the pace of a mark formerly held by one Roger Maris.
Here's where things stand at the moment, with the Orioles having played three more games than the Tigers: Davis leads baseball with 31 homers, with Cabrera six back; Cabrera has the slight edge in RBI, with 82 to Davis's 80; and Cabrera's running away with the batting title, hitting .373, while Davis is a distant second at .332.
If anything, both are heating up as the all-star break looms. Davis is coming off a three-HR, six-RBI series, a sweep of the Yankees, including last night's effortless opposite-field flick.
Cabrera's weekend series was just as bountiful: 6-12 at the plate, and three home runs of his own, including this splashdown from yesterday from which the live rays in the tank in right-center are still recovering.
Davis isn't going to catch Cabrera's batting average; no one is. He's all but assured his third straight batting title, something achieved in the AL by only Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Rod Carew, and Wade Boggs. (As baseball's PED-era stat bloat subsided while Cabrera's numbers only got better, history is being forced to recognize that Cabrera is, "despite" his power, one of the greatest pure hitters the sport has ever seen.) Even compared to his Triple Crown and MVP 2012, Cabrera's OBP, slugging, and league-adjusted OPS+ are way up. Mike Trout's not far off his WAR-machine rookie pace, and he won't even be in the MVP discussion.
We expect Davis's average to fall off—his best is a .285 in his rookie half-season—yet he's still young enough that we can't point to his history to say the home runs are going to dry up. But baseball history says maintaining this power pace for another three months is unlikely. Here are the plate appearances per home run of everyone who's hit 60 or more, plus Davis (lower is better):
- Barry Bonds (2001): 9.096 PA/HR
- Mark McGwire (1998): 9.729
- Mark McGwire (1999): 10.169
- Sammy Sosa (1998): 10.939
- Chris Davis (2013): 11.032
- Sammy Sosa (2001): 11.109
- Sammy Sosa (1999): 11.302
- Roger Maris (1961) 11.443
- Babe Ruth (1927): 11.517
Chris Davis is halfway to doing something historic—his .728 slugging percentage would be good for 22nd all-time—and the man can't get love. Part of it is a wait-and-see attitude toward the 27-year-old Davis, who's already nearly matched his previous single-season highs in homers, walks, and RBI. Part of it is residual fatigue from a steroid era that rendered power numbers cartoonish and inflated. And part of it is Miguel Cabrera's continued existence.
The Triple Crown's never been successfully defended. (Rogers Hornsby came the closest, winning two three years apart; Ted Williams did it five years apart, with three of those seasons lost to the war.) It'll make for a thrilling conclusion to the season, because as long as Cabrera keeps on keeping on (a safe-ish bet), the only thing that stands between him and history is Chris Davis's power. And if Davis is able to keep up the home run pace to deny Cabrera, he could very well make a little history of his own. Chicks do still dig the long ball.