The Triple Crown Watch is On

Casey Stengel with 1956 AL Triple Crown winner Mickey Mantle

Hey Bunky, feeling a little discouraged by the races this season? Not feeling the adrenaline pumping the way you would like? Not rushing to watch the scoreboard or check out the box scores?

If you answered affirmatively to any or all of these questions then you are not paying attention to the fact that we may have a Triple Crown winner this season. Not only that, we have two, yes two, very serious candidates for the honor of being the league leader in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. And the neat thing is these two National League leaders are battling each other as their teams are battling for a slot in the postseason.

By now you must realize that I am referring to the great Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals and the young star of the Reds, Joey Votto. Let us go to the numbers!

First, let us look at Votto whose Reds were buried last night by the San Francisco Giants, 16-5. First of all, with the win the Giants moved back into a tie with Phillies for the NL Wild Card slot. The Phils dropped a 4-2 decision to the Astros in 16 long and strange innings. After beating the Reds, 11-2 on Monday, the Giants scored 11 or more runs in consecutive games for the first time since June 27-28, 2000, at Colorado, and the first time at home since Sept. 2-3, 1973.

But all that seems recent history compared to the last time we have had a NL Triple Crown winner. The last winner was Joe Medwick of the 1937 Cardinals. That season Ducky and the Cardinals finished fourth despite Medwick beating out teammate Johnny Mize in batting average .374 to .364. Medwick led the league with a .641 slugging percentage and a 1.056 OPS. He led with 111 runs scored and 154 runs batted in. In the latter category he led runner-up Frank Demaree of the Cubs by an enormous 39 RBI. He led the league with 56 doubles and even had 10 triples. He tied with fellow future Hall-of-Famer Mel Ott with 31 homers.

But back to the Reds last night where first sacker Votto went 1-for-4, lowering his league-leading batting average to .323 and scoring his 88th run of the season. Votto trails teammate, league-leader, Brandon Phillips by one run scored. In third place? None other than Albert with 87 runs, a non-TC category.

Let us move on to Pujols and the Cardinals who still trail Cincinnati by 2.5 games and just one in the loss column after they fell to the Pitiful Pirates last night, 4-3. Adam Wainwright (17-8) had a 2-0 lead but gave up a pair of runs in both the 6th and 7th innings and, for the second straight start, did not win his 18th and saw his ERA rise to 2.18.

But we are not focusing on Wainwright’s quest for the Cy Young Award, we are more interested in noting that Pujols went 3-for-5 with a run scored. This means that Albert is now 149-for-463 on the season, a .32181425 average compared to Votto who is 139-for-431 an average of .3225058, a difference of .0006916.

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

The X-factors in the batting race are Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies at .319, Placido Polanco of the Phils at .317, and Martin Prado of the Braves at .317.

Let us move on to the home run category that finds Votto in third place with 29. Votto after seasons with 24 and 25 homers now has a career high in homers but is clearly in his comfort zone. Votto has 82 homers in his career.

In second place, is a huge X-factor, Adam Dunn of the Nationals. Dunn has 31 jacks this season, and after five straight seasons of 40+, Dunn had 38 last year and 347 for his career. He didn’t hit any against the Cubs last night but don’t be surprised if you see him hitting many for the Cubs next season.

Leading the league is Albert with 33 dingers. Albert has been in the bigs since 2001 and never has hit fewer than 32 homers. His next homer will be #400.

Other X-factors include Dan Uggla with 28 Fish, Mark Reynolds with 27 Diamondbacks, once again Carlos Gonzalez with 26 Rox, and Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder each with 25 Friar Brews.

As you noted with Medwick, a Triple Crown leader can tie in a category. The last NL-er who won without a tie was Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies, in 1933, who hit .368 with 28 homers and 120 RBI. Interestingly enough, that same season Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia Athletics won the Triple Crown that season in the AL hitting .356 with 48 homers and 163 RBI. Must have been the cheese steaks.

The RBI race this season has out two TC contenders running 1-2. Pujols leads with 92. Despite never driving in fewer than 103 in a season, this is the one Triple Crown category in which Albert has never led the league. Last year, he led the league with 47 homers and then in 2003 he led the league with a .359 batting average. After two successive seasons driving home 84 runs, Votto has 86 RBI so he has some distance to make up here.

Our RBI X-factors are Casey McGehee with 83, Ryan Howard with 82, that third Triple Crown contender Carlos Gonzalez also with 82, David Wright with 81 and Dan Uggla with 80. A couple of big games and the rankings here can change dramatically.

It should be noted, not surprisingly that Pujols (1.017) and Votto  (1.011) are 1-2 in the OPS leadership race as well. They are also 1-2 in the Runs Created race with Pujols at 108.0 and Votto at 103.2. FYI: Runs created is determined this way: [(H + BB + HBP – CS – GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB – IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). Seriously.

So it is possible that we will see our first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when Yaz hit .326, drove home 121 and tied Harmon Killebrew for the home run lead with 44. Or maybe the first pure TC winner since Frank Robinson won it the year before, in 1966, hitting .316 with 49 homers and 122 RBI.

Then again, it is possible, like so many seasons since, the leadership positions will divide and no Triple Crown will be won.

Nevertheless, you now have another reason to check Billy-Ball and the Boxscores every day.