BY Steve Rudman 01:24PM 08/13/2015

Mariners’ Cruz tracking a rare hitting feat

Nelson Cruz sits atop the major league leader board in a number of offensive categories, including home runs and hits — an extremely rare combination.

Nelson Cruz tops the American League in homers and hits. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

As the architect of the Mariners, Jack Zduriencik doesn’t have much to preen about. Too many players – Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, to cite two discards from whom much was expected – have failed to develop under his command, and too many others have emerged as nothing special. When the Mariners cut Zduriencik loose, probably in early October despite the two-year contract he signed a year ago, his success stories will barely fill in a thimble.

But say this for Zduriencik: He can claim that, as GM, he out-performed Bill Bavasi. He signed Nelson Cruz, the only position player on Seattle’s 2015 roster who has out-played his contract, which is saying something since the contract is four years and $57 million.

As the Mariners take a day off Thursday in advance of a three-game series at Fenway Park in Boston starting Friday, Cruz’s name is plastered all over MLB leader boards – first in home runs (34), hits (140), slugging percentage (.609) total bases (263), among the top five in OPS (.998) and multi-hit games (42), and in the top 10 in batting average (.324) and extra-base hits (54).

If the Mariners didn’t rank 15th in the American League in on-base percentage (.302), meaning if Robinson Cano hadn’t forgotten how to hit in the first half, Cruz would be a Triple Crown candidate. But he certainly controls what he can.

Cruz is also working on a majors-best 21-game hitting streak and a 23-game streak of reaching base.

None of that is going to get the Mariners into the postseason, which, unless a miracle is in the offing, they’ll miss for the 14th consecutive season. But it will get Cruz some MVP votes and an almost unique place in baseball history if he can maintain his leadership in two stats.

Home run hitters such as Cruz – nine of his 34 have traveled 440-plus feet, most such blasts in the majors – rarely also lead in base hits. The last to do so was Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox in 1978.

Since 1914, only three players have topped the majors in home runs and hits, and only nine have ever led a league, none since Dante Bichette of the Colorado Rockies 20 years ago. Cruz can become the fourth and 10th, respectively.

Year Hitter Team Led Hits HR Skinny
1922 Rogers Hornsby StL MLB 250 42 .401 BA, 1.181 OPS
1931 Lou Gehrig NYY AL 211 46 T1 in HRs w/Babe Ruth
1932 Chuck Klein Phil NL 226 38 Also led NL in runs, 152
1933 Chuck Klein Phil NL 223 28 Also led NL in RBIs, 120
1937 Joe Medwick StL NL 237 31 T1 in HRs w/Mel Ott
1945 Tommy Holmes Bos (N) MLB 224 28 Also led in OPS, .997
1967 C. Yastrzemski Bos (A) AL 189 44 T1 in HRs w/H. Killebrew
1978 Jim Rice Bos (A) MLB 213 46 Won AL MVP award
1995 Dante Bichette Col NL 197 40 T1 in hits w/Tony Gwynn
2015 Nelson Cruz Sea MLB 140 34 Has a 21-game hit streak

Six of the listed players – Hornsby, Gehrig, Klein, Medwick, Yastrzemski and Rice – are in the Hall of Fame.

If Cruz, who didn’t play in Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-hitter Wednesday due to neck spasms, winds up leading in home runs, he will become the first to do so in back-to-back years since Jose Bautista in 2010 and 2011. Cruz hit 40 last year playing for the Baltimore Orioles. He would also become the first Seattle player to lead the American League in hits since Ichiro in 2010 (214).

Not a no-hit candidate

There have been 19 no-hitters (team and individual) since the start of the 2012 season, and four were at Safeco Field. No other major-league ballpark has seen more than two no-hitters over that span and the only parks with more than one are Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

At 34, Iwakuma is the oldest American League pitcher to throw his first no-hitter since 36-year-old David Cone delivered a perfect game against the Montreal Expos in 1999.

Unlike Nolan Ryan, who not only threw seven no-hitters and had five others busted up in the ninth inning, Iwakuma had never before Wednesday posed even a remote threat to throw one. Iwakuma’s longest no-hit bid before he blanked the Baltimore Orioles 3-0 was a mere 4.1 hitless innings against the Minnesota Twins three years ago. ‘Kuma’s previous longest no-hit bids:

Year Date Opp. IP Result
2012 Aug. 28 Twins 4.1 Won 5-2; 6 innings, 1 hit, 1 run
2012 Aug. 17 Twins 4.0 Won 5-3; 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 run
2013 April 18 Tigers 3.1 No decision; 6 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs
2013 April 12 Rangers 3.0 Won 3-0; 1 run, 3 hits in 6.2 innings
2013 Sept. 13 Cardinals 2.2 No decision; allowed 3 hits in 7 innings
2014 Sept. 15 Angels 2.2 Lost 8-1; 4 runs on 3 hits in 3rd inning
2015 Aug. 7 Twins 2.2 No decision; allowed 3 hits over 8.2 IP

Not only that, but the no-hitter was also Iwakuma’s first major league complete game (88th career start). That made Iwakuma the 17th pitcher (since 1914) to toss a no-hitter in his first career complete game and the first to do so since Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox threw a perfect game at Safeco Field April 21, 2012.

Next

The Mariners begin a three-game set with the Boston Red Sox Friday (4:10 p.m., PT first pitch). LHP Mike Montgomery (4-4, 3.25) will throw for Seattle opposite RHP Joe Kelly (4-6, 5.96).


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    Jack is an astute judge of talent. He’s the only MLB executive to be awarded MLB Executive Of The Year award and not be a GM. A large number of his draft choice have made it to the big leagues and his free agent pick ups have performed at least better than Bavasi’s. Cano and Cruz have been much better than Beltre and Sexson. But he has failed at developing talent and being able to put together a winning team. He put it all out there this season and failed miserably. As much as a new GM should be brought in I can also see him getting one more season, largely because of the extension he signed. Color me disappointed if that happens.

    Cruz has been a godsend for the club. I had reservations on how he’d perform, partly due to the failure of past free agent signees and the intimidation factor that Safeco Field gives hitters. Not sure what the biggest need will be for next season will be: a leadoff hitter with a high OBP? A #2 or #3 starting pitcher? A good hitting catcher? A closer? An All-Star caliber leadoff hitter would be extremely beneficial to Cruz, Cano and Seager.

    • Lodowick

      I cannot see the decision giving Jack another season living side by side with the decision every club makes and sends out to every department and every corner of baseball operations that repeated failure year after year will not be tolerated. Of course, that’s the decision making process regarding wins over losses and playoff appearances. If you evaluate strictly along fiscal and financial lines then, good lord, give him another year. Extend his contract by 10 years. Sheesh. But let’s see how Cano, Cruz and Seager do next year. The team has committed a massive amount of money to those three. Big gamble.

  • Trygvesture

    You’re right, Steve– Zs not such a great judge of talent and has proven it in a pretty large sample size. Cruz and Cano were pretty simple and visible. He did well as a scout-master years ago back in Brewerville —– or at least he managed to credit himself when his scouting team did good work. But, there’s acres of truth in the well turned phrase that

    “his success stories will barely fill in a thimble.”

    Good to see Big Credit published here for Cruz.

  • Bayview Herb

    I remember Frank Howard when he was with the Dodgers in LA. He had this terrible buggy whip swing and struck out a lot. But I saw him hit one to Dead Center Field that hit half way up the back drop which was at the rear of the stands. There was no seating there as they used the space for batting cages and such, plus the old left field green monster from the Coliseum days was used for contrast so hitters wouldn’t lose the ball in a sea of white shirts