Anthony Rendon is competing against himself for the National League batting title.
His toughest competition? A sidelined Christian Yelich.
Yelich remains second in batting average, four points behind Rendon, and rooting on his surging Brewers teammates while unable to play. A foul ball broke Yelich’s kneecap seven days ago. His numbers remain gaudy: 44 home runs, 30 stolen bases, an 1.100 OPS and, most important to Rendon, a .329 batting average.
None of those numbers will change, yet they will chase Rendon. He could slide back from his current .333 average and dip below Yelich.
The Nationals have 13 games to play. Rendon averages 3.8 at-bats per game, which means he has around 50 at-bats to go. In order to become the first Washington player since Mickey Vernon in 1953 to win the batting title, Rendon needs 15 more hits. He would then finish at .330.
Vernon debuted as a 21-year-old in 1939. He hit .257 that year. Vernon missed his age-26 and age-27 seasons because of military service (1944 and 1945) before returning to lead the league in hitting with a .353 average, the best of his career, in 1946. He also doubled 51 times on the way to a top-5 MVP finish. His second batting title arrived in 1953 when Vernon hit .337. That’s the season Rendon is looking to put his name next to.
Vernon’s .337 was a comparatively down number for a batting champion, but would hold up well in this era. Of the 117 American League-leading batting averages since 1901, only 28 had a lower average than his .337 (Washington was in the AL then). Flip to the modern National League. Vernon would have at least tied for or led eight of the last nine seasons.
No National League player has hit .350 since Chipper Jones hit .364 in 2008, when he played just 128 games and narrowly made it into the qualifying threshold. Jones went 2-for-3 during the season’s final week that year, rarely playing for a Braves team out of contention. Albert Pujols finished second at .357.
The same trend exists in the American League. Two hitters -- Joe Mauer (.365 in 2009) and Josh Hamilton (.359 in 2010) -- exceeded .350 in the last decade. In the previous 10 years, it happened five times, plus Manny Ramirez hit .349 (yes, it was that era). So, instead, take the AL in the 1980s: six times the batting champion his .350 or better. Not so anymore. Even with this new ball.
Rendon doesn’t need to hit that threshold. He just needs his 15 hits, a stagnant Yelich not to flip ahead of him and Ketel Marte, now a distant third at .326, to hold his place. Then, he is next to Vernon.
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