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Monday, September 06, 2010

CarGo Chasing Triple Crown?

I was hardly alone on a island last March in recommending Carlos Gonzalez as a breakout candidate.  His performance down the stretch and in the 2009 postseason put him on the radar of even some casual baseball fans.  I was one of the few, however, who believed Gonzalez was capable of an MVP-type campaign immediately, at the age of 24, and, as such, I was willing to pay almost any price for him in fantasy leagues.

But as much of a man-crush as I have on Carlos Gonzalez, even I couldn't have predicted the tear that he's gone on in the second half of 2010.  On July 2nd, CarGo had an 0-for-5 against Tim Lincecum and the Giants which brought his average to a season-low of .294.  The next night he began a ten-game hitting streak which was just the beginning of a 50+ game stretch of incredible and potentially historical hotness.  In the past two months Cargo has hit 18 HR and driven in 47 runs, while batting .397 with a 1222 OPS.

At the All-Star Break and well into August, baseball pundits debated whether Joey Votto and/or Albert Pujols could make runs at the first Triple Crown since 1967 (the first in the NL since 1937).  But while King Albert and Joey V. both still rank in the top five in all three Triple Crown categories, it is Gonzalez who now has the best shot at that near-impossible accomplishment.  CarGo has more or less put the batting title out of reach, as he has a seventeen point lead over Votto (.322) and a thirty point lead on Pujols (.309).  Not only does he now look like a relatively safe bet to win the NL batting title, he has moved to within four homers of Pujols NL lead (35) and within one RBI of Votto's top mark (99).  Could Carlos Gonzalez really be the next player to anoint himself in one of baseball's most elite clubs, alongside the like of Frank Robinson and Ted Williams?

Even those (like myself) who saw the brightest of futures for CarGo, did not imagine he could have 40+ HR power.  His 162-game average in the minor leagues was just 22.  So, even with some physical growth and maturity, 30-35 HR power seemed like his upside (and still is, probably, in most seasons).  Clearly, we didn't give enough consideration to the Coors Field factor, which partially explains how the nimble, speedy outfielder has more homers since the All-Star Break than anyone not named Jose Bautista.  24 of CarGo's 31 bombs have come at home, where he also maintains an insane .391 average for the season.  The Humidor may have brought the Rockies park factor down to earth a little, but the ballpark is still a hitters paradise and seems perfectly tailored to CarGo's sweet left-handed swing.  His approach resembles to some extent that of the young Larry Walker, who, during one three-year stretch in Colorado, hit .369 with a 1141 OPS and averaged 44 HR and 124 RBI per 162 games.

It certainly helps CarGo's quest that the Rockies will play 16 of their remaining 26 games in Denver.  Nonetheless, he will need to have another huge month, maybe his biggest of the year, in order to close the gap on a Pujols, who has also been searing hot of late (.352, 12 HR in last 31 games).  With 16 games left against the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Cardinals, he'll have some of the league's best pitchers getting in his way.

Gonzalez's entry in the MVP race and potentially the history books is yet another reason to mark your calender for the showdown between the Rockies and Cardinals on the final weekend of the season (Sept. 30-Oct. 3).  Both teams are still very much alive in a Wild Card race, so a postseason entry could be on the line, while as an added bonus we could see the squaring off of two of the three contestants for the NL MVP, as well as two of the heavy favorites for the NL Cy Young (Ubaldo Jimenez & Adam Wainwright).  That's engagement baseball.  


JK660 said...

I've been talking with baseball fans about Pujols and Votto for several months and more recently about Gonzales as well. The fact that we have three guys that could win the triple crown is incredible. I get the feeling that even most baseball fans don't grasp how special this is. I have been trying to educate them. Unfortunately, the fact that we have three strong contenders make it less likely that one of them will really win but, since it has been 43 years since we had a triple crown winner and much longer than that for the National League, I'm rooting for one of them to come through. Personally,I hope it is Votto because it looks like he may be the only one of the three in post season play.

Hippeaux said...

It certainly would be entertaining to see all three of these players in the postseason. But, although I'm gaga for Gonzo, if somebody is going to have this honor, it seems just that it would be Pujols, who is the only player in this trio who can claim to have dominated his generation the way previous Triple Crown winners like Robinson, Williams, and Hornsby did. Every Triple Crown winner from 1894 to 1967 went on to reside in the Hall of Fame. Pujols will obviously join them someday. Will Votto? CarGo? It's far too early to tell.