The calendar has officially flipped to June, two months into the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Some would argue that it’s the year of the pitcher. Certainly, there has not been a shortage of masterpieces on the mound this season by any stretch of the imagination. However, it’s hard to overlook the hitting performances of some of the game’s position players. Troy Tulowitzki has, so far, treated baseball fans to a season for the ages. That Mike Trout player is very, very good at his job. There are three players, though, who deserve some serious recognition in the limelight in addition to Tulowitzki, Trout and the other superstars in the game.
Edwin Encarnacion hit his 19th tally of the season on Sunday. Prior to this season, it was not unusual for the Toronto Blue Jays slugger to be a good candidate to go deep. However, he’s just turning it on in 2014. After hitting a mere 2 home runs in April, he went deep not once, not twice but 16 times in the month of May, one shy of tying the record Barry Bonds set in 2001 for the most dingers in May when he hit 17 of them. His home run on Sunday helped Toronto defeat the Kansas City Royals 4-0. There was even a joke on MLB Network that it was not June 1, but instead someone told Encarncion it was May 32. There’s still plenty of baseball left, but considering how the Blue Jays are 34-24, atop the AL East and having an incredible offense after a last place finish in 2013, if this keeps up, Encarnacion has to be a serious candidate for AL MVP.
Just as a little nugget, Roger Maris nearly went the entire month of April before hitting his first home run of what would become a then-record 61 home runs in a season in 1961. He hit first one out April 26 of that year. That’s not to say Encarnacion is going to hit 60 big flies, though certainly possible, but if only he hit more than 2 of them the first month of the season.
The Baltimore Orioles were my pick for the AL East division crown this year. It’s not the worst pick in the world so far, but it hasn’t been accurate, with the O’s a mere game above .500 with a win on Sunday over the Houston Astros. Still, the team finds itself just 4.5 games of Toronto for first place in the division. A big reason why the team has able to keep above .500 and within reasonable reach of first place is Nelson Cruz. Whatever critics want to think of him and him being suspended 50 games last season, it’d be hard to dispute he just may have been the steal of the offseason. Cruz was without a home until Feb. 24. The Orioles picked him up for 1-year, $8 million.
Cliché as it is, Baltimore more than got the bang for its buck. Cruz has hit .315 with 20 rockets and 52 knocked in, the latter two categories lead all of baseball. He got drilled on the hand Sunday and had to left the game with it being all bruised, but reports say it doesn’t appear to be serious. A year ago, Chris Davis was putting on a clinic with the long ball. This season, it’s Cruz and he’s been quite a show to watch.
I remember two years ago when the 2012 season belonged to Miguel Cabrera’s historical Triple Crown run and Trout putting up one of the greatest seasons ever by a rookie. Debate arose as to who should be the AL MVP. Cabrera won, but both campaigns were so historical in their own right. In 2014, though I expect it to met with less fanfare, there seems to be a very good two horse race for the AL Rookie of the Year. The Chicago White Sox have activated Jose Abreu off the 15-day disabled list and it’s safe to think the team is glad to have him back. He took home not only AL Rookie of the Month honors, but also won the award for AL Player of the Month. He hasn’t even played half a season in the Majors, yet he’s already a threat at the plate. However, it may not be a runaway for him should he get honors as the Junior Circuit’s top rookie in 2014. Astros fans haven’t had a whole lot to cheer about in recent years.
That’s where George Springer steps in. Springer was called up in April and finished that month hitting beneath the Mendoza Line at .182, but he had a much better first full month in MLB. He hit .294, 10 home runs and had 25 RBI. The Seattle Mariners probably wished the 24-year-old rookie went back to his April performance. Springer had his first ever multi-homer game against the M’s May 24 in what turned out to be a 5 RBI performance. The very next night in the finale of that two game series, he added another deep fly and two more driven in for good measure. That latter Seattle game was the third of an eventual four game home run streak for Springer. No doubt Abreu is shaping up to be quite the hitter, but if the month of May is any indication, Springer is sure to give him some stiff competition to be named the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year.
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