If Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers moved to the National League, effective immediately, the American League would have one player leading every Triple Crown category.
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis.
You may not be familiar with his numbers or his story. That is likely to change. Davis leads the majors with 19 home runs. His .353 batting average and 50 RBI are second only to Cabrera in the AL. And Davis’ 1.195 OPS is the highest in Major League Baseball (Cabrera ranks second).
Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers will play a three-game series at Camden Yards this weekend, and it’s fitting that June arrives during their stay. This is the month in which Davis can solidify his first All-Star selection while establishing himself as a legitimate threat to finish ahead of Cabrera in one … or two … or three categories.
After Davis went 4 for 4 with two home runs in an astounding power display Wednesday night, I asked him if he’s ready to take the Triple Crown from Cabrera.
“I was telling people last year — my friends that don’t necessarily follow baseball — you guys don’t realize how hard that actually is,” Davis said. “Not just to hit for that average, but to do it with power. It’s just a very rare thing. There’s a reason nobody did it for a long time.
“Miguel is one of those guys you watch, as a player, and he just makes it look easy. It doesn’t ever look like he’s overwhelmed or overmatched. It would be quite a feat to take a Triple Crown from him. I honestly don’t know if there’s going to be anybody else to do it — besides him.”
Davis probably is right. The 45-year drought after Carl Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown in 1967 suggests the odds are against everyone — Cabrera included. But at the very least, Cabrera has new competition for his longstanding title as the Greatest Hitting Show on Earth.
Davis’ chiseled physique and Bunyanesque strength aren’t new developments. He had the same raw hitting tools as he yo-yoed between the majors and Triple-A with the Rangers from 2008 through 2011. But now at age 27, in his second full season as a big leaguer, he’s become more selective. When his power is channeled toward hittable pitches, he tends to annihilate them. And loud fly balls into the steamy air at Camden Yards frequently land over the wall.
Davis’ maturation as a hitter is colliding with an ideal offensive environment, just as it did for Jose Bautista in Toronto three seasons ago. Asked how much Davis has changed from last year at this time to now, Orioles manager Buck Showalter replied, “Not a whole lot. It’s always been there.”
And Davis has done it for long enough — including 33 homers last year — that pitchers are cautious, not skeptical, when he steps to the plate.
“I’ve had some decent success against him, but he’s a different hitter now than he was in Texas,” said Washington Nationals starter Dan Haren, who used his splitter effectively while holding Davis hitless Thursday night. “He had a lot of holes when he was in Texas. I think he would admit to that.
“He’s always been a presence at the plate. He kind of scared you, with how big he is and how he swings the bat. But going over his (scouting) charts, what he’s hitting and not hitting, he’s hitting pretty much everything. I was really fine with the pitches I was throwing him today. I got behind him once or twice, but if I was going to walk him, I was going to walk him and move on to (Matt) Wieters.”
In other words, Haren treated Davis like a star. It was wise — and appropriate.
The Rangers selected Davis in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, and they believed in him enough that he reached the majors two years later. But Rangers officials tabbed Mitch Moreland as their first baseman of the future, which limited Davis’ playing time. And when the Rangers wanted a reliever for the 2011 stretch run, they shipped Davis and right-hander Tommy Hunter to Baltimore for veteran Koji Uehara.
“I made it to the big leagues at a young age, and I think the success I had — I didn’t necessarily know how to handle it,” Davis said. “It was all part of the process of me growing up, learning how to take the success, stay grounded, and be humble.
“I’ve been on both sides. When you’re going great, food tastes better. You sleep better. It’s one of those things. But when you’re going bad, you have to dig deep. You have a gut check. I know how to deal with both of those.”
Davis said he adopted a “patiently aggressive” hitting approach midway through last season. Apparently, it’s working. At times, it seems Davis is muscling balls out of the park with only his bottom hand on the bat at the point of impact.
“He can swing at 50 percent,” Baltimore left fielder Nate McLouth said, “and hit it further than if I was swinging from second base.”
Davis remains susceptible to strikeouts — he fanned 169 times last year — which will make it difficult for him to stay close to Cabrera in the batting race. But it won’t be a surprise if Davis leads the league in homers or RBI. The Camden Yards effect should only become more pronounced during the warmer months — so far, the majority of his home runs have come on the road — and Davis will have plenty of RBI opportunities thanks to the procession of .300 hitters batting ahead of him.
As an all-around hitter, Cabrera remains without peer in baseball today. But the most impressive offensive display at Camden Yards this weekend could belong to someone else.