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The bar for the batting title is unusually low this year – and that’s creating wild races for the honour in both leagues.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads the majors in hitting with a .321 average and Trea Turner is atop the National League at .316. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the only time the leaders in both leagues were at .325 or lower was in 1960, when Dick Groat topped the NL at .325 and Pete Runnels hit .320 to win the AL title.

The lowest average to win the NL batting crown was .313 by Tony Gwynn in 1988. The lowest to top the AL was .301 by Carl Yastrzemski in the pitcher-dominated 1968 season.

These lower batting averages by the league leaders are consistent with the sense that the sport is dominated by homers and strikeouts now. Aside from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, nobody has hit over .350 since Josh Hamilton in 2010.

With nobody close to a number like that this season, there could be several players in contention for the batting crown until the final day. Houston’s Michael Brantley (.315) and Yuli Gurriel (.314) aren’t far behind Toronto’s Guerrero in the AL. Right behind the Dodgers’ Turner in the NL are another former Washington National and a current one. Bryce Harper is hitting .313 and Juan Soto is at .315.

Former ace Severino rejoins Yankees

NEW YORK Pitcher Luis Severino was activated by the New York Yankees before Monday’s series opener against Texas and is in position to make his first major-league appearance in nearly two years. Yankees manager Aaron Boone says he plans to use the two-time all-star out of the bullpen. New York began the day 1 1/2 games behind Toronto for the second AL wild-card spot. The 27-year-old Severino has completed his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery on Feb. 27, 2020. The right-hander made four minor-league appearances totalling 10 2/3 innings for Tampa, Hudson Valley and Somerset, allowing four runs, five hits and one home run with three walks and 15 strikeouts. A 19-game winner in 2018, he was limited by shoulder soreness to three appearances in 2019, the first on Sept. 17 and the last on Sept. 28, plus a pair of post-season starts that Oct. 7 against Minnesota in the AL Division Series and Oct. 15 against Houston in the AL Championship Series. Right-hander Sal Romano was released by the Yankees to open a roster spot.

Braves’ clinching number is 13

ATLANTA With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Braves enter play Monday clinging to a two-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East. The Braves’ win at San Francisco on Sunday, coupled with the Phillies’ loss to the Mets, dropped the Braves’ magic number to clinch the division to 13 (that is, any combination of Atlanta wins and Philadelphia losses totalling 13). The race to the division title next goes through MLB’s two worst teams, with the Braves playing a four-game series at Arizona and the Phillies playing a three-game series at home against Baltimore. Arizona has the worst record in the National League at 48-101 and Baltimore the worst record in the American League at 47-102. Neither the Braves nor the Phillies can afford to slip at this point against those opponents. The schedule turns in the Phillies’ favour later in the week, when they play host to Pittsburgh (56-93) and the Braves visit San Diego (76-73, albeit 2-8 in its past 10 games).

Where Reds stand in playoff race

The collapse of the Cincinnati Reds continues. The Reds have eight straight series losses, a 6-11 record in September and 16 losses in their past 24 games. An 8-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, coupled with an 8-7 victory by the St. Louis Cardinals (79-69) over the San Diego Padres (76-73), means the Reds (77-73) face a three-game deficit in the race for the second wild card. The Philadelphia Phillies (76-72) pulled into a tie with the Reds in the wild-card race, while the Padres, who were swept by the Cardinals, are 3 1/2 games back of the Cardinals. The Cardinals have won eight straight games. The last time they lost a game, on Sept. 10 to the Reds, they trailed the Reds and Padres by three games. The Cardinals now have a 73.1-per-cent chance of winning the wild card, according to FanGraphs.com. The Reds have a 14.3-per-cent chance.

– The Associated Press, New York Times News Service

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