BC-BBO--This Week In Baseball,1st Ld-Writethru
April is just over a week old, and already Whit Merrifield is more than halfway to matching Joe DiMaggio’s famous hitting streak.
That’s because Merrifield’s run began toward the end of last season — so long ago that it doesn’t totally resonate.
“I didn’t even know I had a streak going until the offseason when someone told me I finished on 20 games,” Merrifield said Sunday. “I was concerned with getting all the hits, and leading the league in hits.”
Merrifield indeed led the major leagues in hits last year, and on Monday, the Kansas City infielder extended his hitting streak to 29 games. If that number keeps rising, there will probably be plenty of chatter about whether his carried-over streak is comparable to one that starts and finishes in the same season. DiMaggio’s 56-game mark isn’t exactly in jeopardy at the moment, but Merrifield needs only one more game to tie George Brett’s franchise record.
“As part of my routine goes, nothing changes. I’d be lying if I said you don’t think about it,” Merrifield said. “You try to stay with your approach as best you can. Hopefully you get a hit your first at-bat, so you can relax the rest of the game, and play your game. To say I’m not thinking about it would be a lie.”
Brett’s 30-game streak came in 1980, the same year he hit .390 and won AL MVP honors. The Royals went to the World Series that season.
Expectations are considerably lower this year for Kansas City, but the 30-year-old Merrifield is a bright spot. In a sport gravitating toward home runs and strikeouts, he fits in with the Royals, who are trying to take a step forward by building around speed. Merrifield stole 45 bases in 2018.
A long hitting streak can turn into a major story once it reaches about 30 games. There hasn’t been a 30-gamer since Freddie Freeman’s in 2016. Merrifield’s run remains under the radar, probably because the 2019 portion is only a nine-game streak. It’s still a point of pride, though.
“It’s cool. I mean, it’s an accolade that I can hang my hat on, but I’d like to keep going,” he said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Baltimore’s Chris Davis is dealing with a different kind of streak — which also dates to last season. Davis, who hit 53 home runs in 2013 and 38 as recently as 2016, is 0 for 28 this year with 15 strikeouts. He’s set a record for a position player by going 49 at-bats without a hit, since a double against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 14.
That was the same day Merrifield’s hitting streak reached game five.
Bryce Harper’s return to Washington was an emotionally charged evening that included plenty of hostility from fans of his former team. Then the new star of the Philadelphia Phillies struck back, homering to the second deck in his final at-bat. Philadelphia won 8-2 on Tuesday night.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Gary Sanchez hit three home runs for the New York Yankees in Sunday’s 15-3 victory at Baltimore. Sanchez did all that in just nine pitches. He already has six homers on the year after finishing last season with a fairly pedestrian 18.
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This version corrects the day of Bryce Harper’s home run at Washington.