Just to give a brief example of the type of season Josh Hamilton is having, consider that he is in a mini-slump over the last week (.261 AVG, 0 HR, 3 RBI)—yet he still has a good lead in all three Triple Crown categories.
He'll need to get to back to where he was, or at least close to it, because the Triple Crown will not be easy to accomplish. This is pretty obvious, considering it hasn't been done in 45 years.
There are so many specialists today in baseball: guys who hit for average, drive in a lot of runs or hit a lot of homers.
Here are five players in each category who will threaten Hamilton's Triple Crown bid. There are probably a few players who deserve to be on this last who aren't, but I tried to focus on guys who are regulars in these categories as well as some surprising players having great seasons thus far.
All stats are from ESPN.
First category is home runs.
Adam Dunn had a horrible year last season, and that’s probably putting it gently.
Luckily for him and the White Sox, Dunn looks like he is back on track in 2012.
Dunn is a classic power hitter in every sense of the word. He doesn’t hit for average (Dunn’s career high is .267), but he knows how to hit the ball out of the park.
He averaged 40 homers a year from 2004-10. The slugger has already surpassed his total from a year ago. If he is truly back to form, Dunn is always a threat to lead the league in home runs.
Curtis Granderson is not the prototypical home run hitter. He is a top-of-the-lineup guy with speed who just so happens to love launching balls into the right field porch in Yankee Stadium.
That’s a big reason why the Bronx Bombers traded for him. He finished second in the league last season with 41 homers.
He has already hit 13 thus far this season, good for fourth in the league. Should Granderson stay healthy, he is definitely a guy to watch for in the home run department.
Jose Bautista has become a regular atop the league in home runs the last couple of seasons. Hitting 97 combined homers in two years will help a guy do that.
After a slow start, Bautista has started to pick things up where he left off.
11 homers put him a distance away from Josh Hamilton at the moment. But when he takes off, he poses a big threat to Hamilton’s Triple Crown chase.
Mark Teixeira is another player off to a slow start in 2012. But that really isn’t unusual for him.
The norm for Teixeira since he broke into the league has been hitting homers, lots of them. He has averaged over 30 a year in his nine-year career.
The first baseman has finished in the top five in homers in each of the past three seasons.
There is still a long season left. No matter the start, Teixeira is a proven slugger who wouldn’t surprise many if he leads the league in bombs this season.
This won’t be the last time you see Miguel Cabrera come up in this article.
The slugger from Detroit is one of the best hitters in baseball, no question.
Cabrera is as consistent as they come, hitting almost 35 homers a year since becoming a Tiger. He has had eight balls leave the park so far and should continue climbing the AL ranking as the season progresses.
Here is Hamilton's biggest competition for runs batted in.
One of the surprises so far this season has been Edwin Encarnacion. He does not have the same production history that other guys on this list have, but Encarnacion is on pace to put up career numbers in 2012.
He is second in the league to Hamilton with 35 RBI. His Blue Jays are currently fifth in the league in runs scored, so his teammates look like they can provide some protection for him in the lineup.
Even though he is adjusting to life in a new ballpark and a new league, you can’t look past Detroit’s other slugger, Prince Fielder.
His home run totals might be down a bit this year, but he is still a player with a great history as a run producer. Fielder led the NL in 2009 with 141 RBI and finished runner-up in 2011 with 120.
Needless to say, he is definitely a guy to watch out for in the RBI chase.
Probably a surprise inclusion on the list, Billy Butler has quietly been one of the more productive players in baseball the last couple years.
The 26-year-old is currently fifth in the league with 31 driven in. He had a strong second half in 2011, and if he is able to duplicate those efforts this year, he has a good chance to win the RBI crown.
A young player who looks like he is finally fulfilling his potential, Adam Jones is another guy putting up solid numbers at the plate.
He is seventh in the AL with 29 RBI batting in the cleanup spot for the Orioles, who are sitting atop the AL East.
The Orioles were in a similar position last season before fading. If they can keep this up, expect Jones and his run production to be a huge part of their success.
Miguel Cabrera is a terrific run producer along with his ability as a power hitter. He has driven in 100 runs or more in eight consecutive seasons, another tribute to his consistency.
He led the American League with 126 RBI in 2010. Cabrera is third so far in 2012 with 34 RBI, looking to make this a close race.
Last but not least, five players who will be tough competition for the AL batting title.
Paul Konerko has put together back-to-back seasons of averaging .300, 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI.
He is right back on track for a similar season, with the exception that his .367 puts him second in the AL, just behind Josh Hamilton. Should he keep this up, Konerko will be very tough to beat for the AL batting title.
Konerko is 36, but has been very durable in his career. He has played in at least 149 games every season since 2004.
It took some deliberation before Derek Jeter was added to this list. The Yankee captain has been a model of consistency in his career and is a lifetime .300 hitter.
Yet, for all his achievements, he has never won the AL batting title. Jeter’s career high .349 in 1999 was good enough for second.
His overall production has been in decline the last two seasons as well. Almost defying logic, Jeter is having a pretty incredible season in 2012. His .343 average right now puts him third in the AL.
While many of his teammates are having poor seasons, Jeter is having a career resurgence at age 37. It’s hard to predict whether he keeps this up, but it isn’t crazy to think that Jeter can win the batting title at the end of his career as one last reminder of the caliber player he is.
Austin Jackson saw his average dip in 2011 after a solid rookie campaign the year before.
However, with his number of strikeouts down, the young outfielder has watched his batting average grow to a career-best .331, good for fifth in the AL.
Jackson has no doubt benefited from hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Pitchers do not want players on base with guys like Fielder and Cabrera coming to the plate.
So, it looks like he is getting good pitches to hit and taking advantage of it. Only time will tell if that can continue.
Another player similar to Jackson is Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.
The 23-year-old is having his best season at the plate so far, hitting .317, which is sixth in the American League. Adding some extra muscle this offseason is paying dividends.
Also, hitting in front of Josh Hamilton in the lineup has provided many opportunities for Andrus. Opposing pitchers do not want a guy with Andrus’ speed creating havoc on the bases while Hamilton and his battery mates wait on deck.
So, like Jackson, Andrus is seeing better pitches to hit and is not missing them. Should he continue this, it will be really interesting to see Hamilton battle his own teammate for the batting title.
Here he is again, and with good reason. Cabrera is the reigning AL batting champion after hitting .344 in 2011. He was also runner-up to Josh Hamilton in 2010 with a .328 AVG.
Cabrera is a little behind the pack in 2012, but should never be counted out of any race when it comes to offense.
If there is another player in baseball who can be mentioned with the Triple Crown, it’s Miguel. He may not be having the season that Hamilton is, but there is always a chance that Cabrera can lead the AL in at least one of the Triple Crown categories.