NEW YORK -- Though Major League Baseball's leaderboards can still spit out some funky truths this time of year, the end of April is about when things start to normalize. By the beginning of May, the league's best hitters tend to lead in batting average. The best pitchers cluster up
NEW YORK -- Though Major League Baseball's leaderboards can still spit out some funky truths this time of year, the end of April is about when things start to normalize. By the beginning of May, the league's best hitters tend to lead in batting average. The best pitchers cluster up top in ERA. The fiercest sluggers have generally hit the most home runs.
But at least one curious entry still exists on the National League leaderboard, where Neil Walker's ninth homer in a 5-2 Mets win over the Reds on Wednesday put him alongside Washington's Bryce Harper and Colorado's Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story at the top of MLB.
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Harper is widely considered the top hitter in baseball, or at least one of the two best, a Hall of Famer in the making. Arenado and Story are burgeoning stars. Walker is a solid regular who, until this year, was known more for his consistency and quiet professionalism than anything particularly eye-popping on the stat sheet.
Since coming to the Mets from the Pirates in a December trade, Walker has not undergone any mechanical makeover. He has not visited a psychiatrist or a witch doctor. He jokes that he's done a few more push-ups than normal, then laughingly admits that even that's not true.
He's just a very good baseball player on a career-defining hot streak, which Walker plans to ride as long as he possibly can.
"I don't know what to tell you," the second baseman said Wednesday, visibly blushing when asked about his perch next to Harper, Arenado and Story. "Maybe it's my age. Maybe I'm carrying more weight in my body. I mean, I'm not, but I really don't know. Maybe I've hit the peak of where I physically can be. But I don't feel any different. I'm not approaching my at-bats any different. I'm just trying to be aggressive, especially with fastballs, and stay on them and hit strikes."
"The guy," Reds pitcher Jon Moscot said more succinctly, "is on fire right now."
It was a 2-0 Moscot fastball that Walker hit out, smacking it from the outer half of the strike zone to the left-center-field stands. That gave Walker nine homers in April, his most in any calendar month of an eight-year career. It also tied him with Dave Kingman, Carlos Delgado and John Buck for the most in any April in Mets history.
The former two players were once prodigious power hitters, 915 career home runs between them. The latter was a journeyman catcher who passed through Queens and had a good month. Walker may not fit neatly into either category -- only once in his career has he launched more than 16 homers in a season; never has he hit fewer than 12 -- but the Mets do expect him to remain a cog in the middle of their lineup all season long.
That means April through September, even if the Harpers of the world eventually claim the leaderboards all to themselves.
"A change of scenery can make a lot of difference," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Here he is in the middle of a lineup with huge expectations. I just think right now, he's swinging great. He's seeing the ball good. He's putting good swings on certain pitches, and doing damage."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.