Winning Major League Baseball’s Triple Crown is arguably the noblest distinction an offensive player can receive. To hit dominantly for both power and average is a tremendous feat and even if someone manages that, a good bit of luck is still necessary to provide the base runners necessary to bat runs in. As prevalent as offense was throughout the steroid era, it still never happened. In fact, the feat is so rare that it was last accomplished by the Boston Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. That season, the Yaz hit .326 with 44 home runs and 121 runs batted in. But we are now past the halfway point of the 2010 campaign and there are presently four different players still in the running for this most illustrious of baseball awards.
The first and most likely candidate to keep up the consistency needed to win the Triple Crown is Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera. The four time All-Star first baseman is currently second in the majors in batting average, hitting .349, and considering he is a career .314 hitter it is definitely within his capabilities to maintain such a high mark. At the moment he is also second in the American League in home runs with 24 and leading the AL in RBI at 88. Prior to this season the once wild-partying Cabrera entered treatment for alcoholism and followed up with a promise that he has so far delivered on to be more focused this year. The Tigers are currently three games back in the AL Central division and with lead-off man Austin Jackson hitting well over .300 there should be ample opportunity for Cabrera to drive home runs. If he doesn’t fall off the wagon down the stretch either personally or professionally then Miguel Cabrera is by far the most probable contender to become MLB’s first Triple Crown winner in over forty years.
The next best candidate for putting together the fabled trifecta is outfielder Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. After a disappointing 2009 season in which he only played in 89 games due to injury, Hamilton has returned to the top form that landed him the number one overall draft spot back in 1999. He is currently leading all the majors with a stout .357 batting average and has hit a whopping .432 since June 1. He is also only one home run behind Cabrera at 23 and still within reach of him with 74 RBI. The Rangers as a team have also been playing at a very high level and with Ian Kinsler and Vladamir Guerrero hitting in front of him Hamilton should have ample opportunity to bring runners home. The biggest obstacle for Josh Hamilton this season will be remaining healthy. He had a long, well-documented trip through the hell of drug addiction earlier in life, and while this is only his fourth year in the majors his body is surely aged beyond its 29 years. Kids, smoking crack and shooting junk are basically the opposite of drinking milk: they do a body bad. However, Hamilton has all the skills and desire to be a legitimate candidate and if his body can hold up and the Rangers as a team can keep producing then he definitely has a reasonable shot at Triple Crown glory.
One person who seems to be perpetually in the running for the Triple Crown is St. Louis Cardinal’s first baseman Albert Pujols. The greatest hitter of his generation and one of the handful of players in the argument for greatest hitter of all time, there is a reason why Pujols’ nickname is The Machine. Never has a “power” hitter made such consistent contact with the ball and even though he is only hitting .300 currently, with a career .330 average it would not be surprising to see that number rise dramatically over the second half of the season. He is second in the NL in RBI with 70 and only two home runs back from the leader at 23. This three-time MVP has the best swing in the game, and with the Cardinals battling the upstart Reds don’t be surprised to see Albert Pujols go on a serious tear down the stretch.
The last player who still has a decent shot at the Triple Crown is the definite dark horse, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Largely unknown outside those closely following the game early this year, Votto’s name became much more familiar after his near-snub for the All-Star Game. He barely made it in on the Final Fan Vote and deservedly so; the guy has been absolutely crushing it this year. He has played a big part in turning the cellar dwelling Reds into legitimate contenders for the NL Central Division with his National League-leading 25 home runs and .318 batting average, currently tied for second. His previous career highs for a season are only 25 home runs and 84 RBI, but as this is only his third full season in the Majors it’s not surprising that he will easily smash both of those. To compete for the Triple Crown will largely depend on the Reds’ ability to maintain competitive and continue getting runners on base for Votto to drive home. While surely the biggest underdog of the bunch, Joey Votto’s play thus far has struck fear into pitchers across the league and certainly makes him a worthwhile candidate in the Triple Crown race.
The season is barely more than halfway through and it is unlikely that any of these sluggers will keep up the pace needed to lead all three of the traditionally most important offensive statistics in baseball, but it is remarkable that there are still even this many players with a reasonable shot. It has been almost half a century since someone was able to maintain the consistency necessary to win the Triple Crown, and it seems much more likely that this season will go down in the history books for pitching, rather than batting, records. There have already been five no-hitters and two perfect games thrown in 2010, and many people are already eagerly naming this the “year of the pitcher.”
However, this dominance may in fact help our four candidates in their bid for history. With pitchers throwing the way they have been, batting statistics have dropped across the league. This means that if just one player can continue performing at this super-high level he will have a much easier time actually staying on top in multiple categories. Of course, there is still a lot of baseball to be played and it is impossible to say for certain that at the end of the year any one of these men is going to make history, or even still be close. But this is the most justifiable Triple Crown contenders this late into the season that MLB has seen in quite some time. And just maybe one of them will have what it takes to be crowned a baseball king.