The National League batting title race has been ignored this year, and understandably so. Miguel Cabrera has been nothing short of legendary. His race with Chris Davis for the Triple Crown has overshadowed the offensive race in the NL. For Colorado Rockies fans, the NL Batting Title is the only race that matters right now. With Todd Helton reaching his 2,500 hit milestone, fans’ attention turns to Michael Cuddyer and his chase for the NL Batting Title.
As of today, Cuddyer is one point ahead of Atlanta’s Chris Johnson. Others in the hunt include Yadier Molina, Jayson Werth, and Andrew McCutchen. Household names like Molina, Werth, and McCutchen are no surprise. One of them is one the best catchers in baseball, the other a respected slugger hidden behind a face of hair, and the latter the leader of a team in the middle of a historic season which has captured a city and the attention of baseball fans everywhere. But where did Johnson and Cuddyer come from? Their stories are not nearly as similar as their batting averages.
Chris Johnson’s career is barely five years old. Despite playing third base for the Atlanta Braves, Johnson hasn’t garnered very much attention at all this season. Johnson’s journey through the big leagues has led him through Houston and Arizona. During his previous years in the Majors, he never posted a batting average above .286. He was a part of the trade that brought the bigger name, Justin Upton, to Atlanta, and while attention went to Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, and the Upton twins, Johnson has quietly hit .330.
Another reason Johnson’s name is foreign: the Braves own the best record in baseball and yet they continue to be an afterthought in the minds of many. Even with Braves fans excited about Johnson’s pursuit of the batting title, the 28-year-old handles it all in stride. When asked about winning the crown he responded, “It’s cool.” Yeah Chris, that is cool. It’s even cooler knowing you’d be on the same list as Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. That’d be a quite a journey from your days in the desert.
Michael Cuddyer’s career is nearly over. He has a seasoned approach at the plate that he’s had over 1,300 games and 4,800 at bats to perfect. Having built a career in the Midwest, Cuddyer came to Colorado the way many players come to Colorado: seasoned, experienced, and staring down the waning seasons of their careers. Last season Cuddyer provided what was expected: a solid batting line and veteran leadership to help groom the younger superstars of the Rockies future.
Cuddy’s season has been far more publicized. Cliché after cliché about fountains of youth and new tricks for old dogs could be read in publications across the baseball world (including one or two of my own). He has had to carry the team through injuries to Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Dexter Fowler. He has been the consistency that has kept the Rockies from tumbling down the NL West standings. Cuddyer has never finished a season hitting above .284, and when asked about winning the batting crown he replied, “We still got 20-some games left to play.”
Batting titles aren’t a rare award in Colorado. Todd Helton and Larry Walker reigned from 1998 to 2001, winning four batting titles (Walker 3, Helton 1), Matt Helton nabbed one in 2007, and Carlos Gonzalez got his in 2010. In Atlanta there aren’t nearly as many; Chipper got one in 2008, the first since Terry Pendleton in 1991.
Johnson and Cuddyer are on a collision course for an entertaining batting crown race. Two unlikely contenders; one a young journeyman trying to solidify his role as a starting third baseman in the Majors, and the other a seasoned veteran whose tenure proves his ability to play the game. One preparing for the Fall Classic and the other watching the end of his career creep closer and closer. Both aiming to finish the season hitting career bests. Two underdogs vying for a batting title that will fall as a footnote to the epic season of AL counterparts.