Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Boy, that came out of left field.
Well, right field, actually.
Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer is having a season for the ages. And he's doing it at an age when most ball players are close to calling it quits.
Since 2005, 15 players have finished with an average of .340 or better. Only two of them were older than 33 when they did it: Chipper Jones in 2008 (36) and Ichiro Suzuki in '09 (35).
Cuddyer is hoping to join that group this season. The 34-year-old is hitting .344 in 62 games so far. That puts him one point behind St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina for the league-lead.
Speaking of league-leaders, Cuddyer ranks second in the league in slugging (.590) and fifth in on base percentage (.393). His .983 OPS, which is 178 points higher than his career average, leads all National League hitters this season.
Over the weekend, Cuddyer ran his hitting streak to 27 games, the longest in team history. With another base knock Tuesday against the Dodgers, he'll be halfway to Joe DiMaggio's hallowed 56-game streak set in 1941. Only 54 players in the history of the league have made it to 30 games in a row.
During the streak, which began on May 28th against Houston, Cuddyer has collected a .372 average in 113 at bats. Eleven of his 42 hits over that span have gone for extra bases (four homers, seven doubles).
Cuddyer recorded a hit in every game last month ... and it wasn't even his best month of the season. His average was almost 50 points higher in May (.396 in May compared to .347 in June). Even in April, he was still batting over .300 (.313 in 25 games). Cuddyer didn't hit over .300 in any month last season.
Cuddyer, a .274 lifetime hitter, has also rediscovered his power stroke. This season, he's averaging 17.4 at bats between homers, which is easily a career- high. After launching four homers in his past seven games, the one-time All- Star is on pace for 27 jacks this season. That would be his highest total since 2009 when he launched 32 long balls for the Twins.
Certainly, Cuddyer has benefited from playing half of his games at hitter- friendly Coors Field. He's a .297 lifetime hitter in Denver and just .273 anywhere else. This year, he's batting .368 at Coors with a slugging percentage north of .600.
Let's not give Cuddyer's home ballpark too much credit, though. It's not exactly like Cuddyer has been struggling on the road this season. Only seven hitters in the NL have posted a higher away batting average than Cuddyer in 2013 (.323 in 127 road at bats).
Usually when a player has a dramatic turnaround like this, we can point to a few crucial indicators as to why the change is happening. With Cuddyer that hasn't really been the case.
Yes, he's been a little more patient at the plate this season but you can hardly notice the difference (3.92 pitches seen per at bat versus 3.82 in 2012). Also, Cuddyer is hitting more fly balls than he did a year ago (0.86 ground ball to fly ball rate compared to 0.97 the year before). Typically when that happens, players see their batting average decline. Inexplicably, Cuddyer has experienced the opposite effect.
Since only a handful of hitters have ever had a hitting streak of this length, we know the end has to be near for Cuddyer. That's something fantasy owners will have to take into account.
I'm not talking about a complete meltdown. A guy doesn't just hit .344 for the first half and then fall off a cliff. But Cuddyer could struggle for a bit after the streak ends.
Boston's David Ortiz also had a 27-game streak earlier in the year. Once the streak ended, he was useless for about a seven-game stretch before finally finding his groove again (.143 AVG in 28 at bats).
David Freese (20-game streak) and Matt Carpenter (18 games) also went through lulls after their streaks ended. Freese was 6-for-29 (.207) in the eight games that followed while Carpenter was a miserable 3-for-26 (.115) over his next seven contests.
The good news is, the post-hitting streak letdown doesn't happen to everybody. Marco Scutaro actually hit .324 in his next nine games after watching his 19- game hitting streak fall apart at the end of May.
In a division that is very much up for grabs, Cuddyer has a chance to be the X-factor. And hey, if he wants to go ahead and break DiMaggio's record, that would be pretty cool, too.
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