Boston Red Sox outfielder/designated hitter J.D. Martinez has surpassed teammate Mookie Betts for the league lead in batting average.
Boston Red Sox sluger J.D. Martinez picked up a pair of hits in Saturday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, raising his batting average to .337. The slumping Mookie Betts came up empty in his four plate appearances, surrendering the league lead in the batting title race to his teammate.
Martinez has been scorching hot in August, hitting .400 with a 1.221 OPS in 85 at-bats. Both figures represent the highest he’s produced in any month this season, which is saying something considering Martinez hasn’t had a bad month yet. He hasn’t been below a .299 average or .994 OPS in any full month.
It’s been a different story for Betts. His numbers for the month are still strong due to a hot start in August but he’s been spiraling downward through his worst slump of the season. Betts is 0-for-7 in his last two games and 5-for-29 (.172) over this past week. The Red Sox have gone 2-5 during that span. They endured only their second three-game losing streak of the season and are on the verge of being swept for the first time.
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At the midpoint of this month it appeared Betts had a nearly in surmountable lead in the batting title race with a .352 average. He has since seen that average tumble to .335, the lowest it’s been since April 26. This funk has not only allowed Martinez to overtake him for the league-lead, Betts now also has to contend with the reigning batting champ and MVP, Jose Altuve (.331), who recently returned from the disabled list.
It’s been a career year for Martinez in his first year in Boston. He owns a .292 average for his career and has topped .300 in three of the last four seasons. Yet he’s never been viewed as a batting title contender. His career-high of .315 wasn’t quite enough to put him in the mix. Martinez seems poised to shatter that mark this year.
This raises the chances of Martinez winning the Triple Crown. He would be the first Red Sox player to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and first major league player since Martinez’ former Detroit Tigers teammate Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
As recently as about a week ago it seemed batting average would be the steepest challenge Martinez would face in his quest for the Triple Crown. The home run category was hardly a foregone conclusion but after blasting 29 in a torrid second half last season and leading the league for the majority of this year it seemed like a safe bet. Now Martinez has the lead in batting average but has been surpassed by Oakland’s Khris Davis in the home run department. Martinez’ 38 homers put him one behind Davis and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez still lurks behind him with 37.
The only category that is relatively safe is RBIs. Martinez leads the league with 110, while Davis is second with 103. Ramirez is a distant third with 91.
There is still plenty of baseball left to play this season. A strong finish could see Martinez reclaim the home run lead and hold off his challengers in the batting title race. The Triple Crown is extremely rare, so the odds aren’t in his favor. Still, the fact that we’re even talking about it this deep into the season means we’re watching something truly special from Martinez.