One of the best MLB individual races that no one is watching is the fight for the NL batting crown. After San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera dropped out of the running for the title, the race has opened up to two players: Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen and Giants catcher and Cabrera’s teammate Buster Posey. The two have been battling each other for both the MVP honor and the batting title in a year-long sprint to the finish line, but with the Pirates dropping out of playoff contention, the MVP votes will likely fall somewhere else other than McCutchen. As such, the only remaining, and underrated, individual honor worth watching in the NL is the batting title crown.
In the past week, there has been much speculation over one Giants player, namely Cabrera, and his contention for the NL batting crown. The 28-year-old switch-hitter, who was busted for testing positive for steroids, stood atop the league with a .346 batting average. But as of Friday morning, Cabrera stepped down from the running and made it clear that “it would be far better for the remaining contenders to compete for [the NL batting] distinction.”
That it is.
Currently, McCutchen leads the league with an astounding .336 average, but Posey is nipping at his heels trailing by a mere four points (.332). McCutchen is also trying to fight off a two-month long slump (to his standards) after tallying a .252 average in August and a .288 clip in September. If he continues down this path, his batting average will reach .335 if you include the last eight games onto his total batting batting average.
While McCutchen only has to buoy his batting average for a week-long stretch, the Pirates are just about eliminated from playoff contention after a measly September. So it wouldn’t hurt for McCutchen to turn his attention to his own acclaim (not like he probably wasn’t doing that before).
Still, the 25-year-old shortstop has to fend off Posey, who has been surging as of late, in the last month. In fact, he’s exploded in September, hitting an unfathomable .350 average, which would keep him on pace to end the season with a stellar .337 average. And wouldn’t you know it, that would place him just above McCutchen for the lead.
There are, however, two overlapping factors will determine Posey’s fate as he braces for his first batting title award. Currently, the Giants have settled into the first-place division crown. There may be no need to push the 26-year-old phenom to his limits in the waning games left on the schedule. Especially when he plays a position –catcher– that warrants the most strain on a player.
However, Posey is, to many experts, the frontrunner for the NL MVP. He is racing Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun to the finish line. But an NL MVP, coupled with his NL Rookie of the Year Award, doesn’t just come around every year. In fact, the honor of both achievements has only been reached twice in MLB history (Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners in 2001 and Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox in 1975).
So there really is no clear cut answer. But maybe that’s why its the hottest race in the league that you should be watching. Posey is fighting for an MVP award and a hitting title, enough to sacrifice his endurance in the last week of the season and achieve the almost impossible. But that means he has to slug at an incredible rate, a feat that is incredibly unlikely. Meanwhile, McCutchen is still the best base-hit average man in the game, and current trends would elicit such an outcome. Either way, this is one hot race to watch.