In his first season with the Red Sox, J.D. Martinez has slugged his way into contention for a Triple Crown. But one of his teammates may thwart that effort.
Sure, Martinez isn't likely to mind that Mookie Betts leads the American League batting race, with Boston holding the best record in the Majors and pursuing a World Series. But for those hoping to see Martinez pull off one of the most difficult and prestigious statistical feats in baseball, it's a significant obstacle.
So how might that obstacle be overcome?
For the sake of argument, let's assume Martinez maintains his AL leads in home runs (37) and RBIs (104), holding off the likes of Cleveland's Jose Ramirez (36 homers, 89 RBIs) and Oakland's Khris Davis (34 homers, 93 RBIs).
Given that, the second-place Martinez (.333) still would have to pass Betts (.350) for the batting title in order to join Detroit's Jose Cabrera (2012) as the only Triple Crown winners since Boston's own Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. (He also would have to hold off Houston's Jose Altuve, who is batting .329 but is on the disabled list).
It won't be easy, but Martinez has a believer in Cabrera, who recently gave his former teammate a vote of confidence on Instagram.
Here is a look at three possible ways it could happen:
Scenario 1: Martinez stays hot enough to pass Betts
Let's say Betts holds steady at .350. What would Martinez have to do in Boston's remaining 41 games to catch him?
Considering their large lead in the both the division and the overall AL standings, it wouldn't be a shock if the Red Sox give their regulars plenty of rest down the stretch. But in the interest of round numbers, let's say Martinez plays in 40 of the team's final 41 games.
Going by his season average of 3.85 at-bats per game -- that obviously excludes walks -- Martinez would accrue 154 additional at-bats, bringing his final tally to 593. That means, to get to .350, he would need to pile up 208 total base hits. This would require 62 more hits the rest of the season, which over 154 at-bats would yield a .403 batting average.
It goes without saying that batting .403 over 40 games is a tough task, but it might not be out of reach for Martinez.
The 30-year-old is at .408 (20-for-49) so far this month. And out of the 14 previous months in which Martinez has played since the start of the 2016 season, he also at least approached the .400 mark in June and August of '16 (both .404), as well as last September (.396).
Scenario 2: Betts slumps enough to fall behind Martinez
Red Sox fans no doubt would prefer the first scenario, but this one would only require Martinez to hold at his .333 average, which is certainly difficult enough.
Again, let's assume Betts plays 40 more games. His average of 3.93 at-bats per game over that stretch would bring his season total to 554, which in turn would require Betts to finish with 184 hits in order to fall below Martinez, at .332. This would mean a 45-for-157 (.287) line down the stretch.
Going by this year's results, that would represent a slump for Betts. The AL MVP Award candidate hit "only" .290 in June but has batted at least .330 in every other month, including a red-hot .438 (21-for-48) so far in August.
Of course, it was just a year ago that Betts batted .264 overall and no higher than .296 in any individual month. And while he clearly has grown as a hitter in 2018, some bad luck on balls in play can put anyone in a relatively cold stretch for a while.
Scenario 3: They meet in the middle
Splitting the 17-point difference between them, let's say Martinez gets up to .342 by the end of the season, with Betts dropping back a bit to .341.
Using the same method as before, Martinez would need to collect 57 more hits in his final 154 at-bats, for a .370 average. Again, that's a mark Martinez has reached in three months over the past three seasons, including this August. He also is batting .353 (30-for-85) in 22 games since the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, Betts would have to be limited to 50 more hits (.318) over his final 157 ABs in order to drop to .341 overall. That's still lower than Betts' average in all but one month this season, but he also posted a .318 average or better in just two of 12 months from 2016-17.