Abreu, Cruz, Encarnacion Look Primed to Deliver Best Home Run Race in Years

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterJune 28, 2014

Joy R. Absalon/USA Today

The upcoming Home Run Derby has been a popular story around Major League Baseball this week with the announcement of Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki as league captains, as well as the news that the All-Star event will be switching to a new bracket format. But there's no need to wait until July 14 at Target Field to watch a bona fide home run competition, because one has been going on for much of the past month between Jose Abreu, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion.

And boy, did that trio put on a show Friday night.

All three sluggers hit homers, and because Abreu knocked a pair out of the park after entering the evening one back of Cruz and Encarnacion, they now share the major league lead with 25 apiece. All this happened, by the way, in less than an hour and a half.

Really, who needs the Home Run Derby when we've got a season-long race featuring Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion?

In fact, Abreu—an MLB rookie who competed in five home run competitions in his native Cuba in the past—recently told David Wilson of MLB.com that, no offense, but he'd rather not be invited by Bautista to participate on behalf of the American League:

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I change my whole mental approach when I go there. It messes with my mind. I never go to the plate trying to hit home runs. It's something that I'm blessed with and it happens, but I never go trying to hit home runs, so I feel like when I have gone to these things, it has been not beneficial to me afterward.

Apparently, though, Abreu is fine with continuing to hit as many home runs as he can in games that actually count.

What made this Friday's action even more entertaining was that, because the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays were playing the second of a four-game series on Friday, Abreu and Encarnacion were involved in the same game. The Sox wound up winning 5-4, so Abreu not only out-homered Encarnacion, 2-1, his team also benefitted.

Meanwhile, Cruz and the Baltimore Orioles were busy splitting a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, winning the second game 4-1 after dropping the opener, 5-2.

Just because it's more fun to experience all four four-baggers blow by blow, here's how it all went down Friday night.

First came Abreu's 24th long ball, at approximately 8:22 p.m. ET, which put the White Sox ahead of the Blue Jays 1-0 in the fifth inning—and more importantly, tied both Encarnacion and Cruz for the major league lead:

That was followed just one inning later by Encarnacion's 25th at roughly 8:48 p.m. ET, a solo homer to pull the Jays to 2-1—and put Encarnacion in the home run driver's seat (albeit briefly):

Abreu then went ahead and smashed a drive to dead center in the seventh inning, his second solo shot bringing the score to 3-2 in favor of the White Sox. With this over-the-fencer at about 8:54 p.m. ET, Abreu re-tied Encarnacion and passed Cruz:

As if threatened by having been kept in the park through the first 15 innings of the Orioles' doubleheader to this point and thus having fallen behind not one but two other sluggers on the same night—within a matter of mere minutes—Cruz joined Friday's fun with his 25th of the season. A two-run opposite-field launch job at approximately 9:41 p.m. ET, Cruz's long ball extended the O's lead to 4-1 and kept him even with Abreu and Encarnacion.

Folks, buckle up: As fantastic as Friday was for each of Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion, their display may be but a teaser for a home run chase that could carry on through the summer and on into the fall.

With the halfway point in the 162-game schedule here and the All-Star break approaching, it's safe to say baseball doesn't get to enjoy a race quite like this—three premier power hitters, all in the AL and all tied for the major league lead, to boot—all that often. At least not in the past handful of seasons.

Going back to the turn of the century with the 2000 season, three players reached the 25-home run mark while also being within three dingers of each other at the end of the first half on nine occasions out of 14 seasons. But sticking to only the past five years, Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion will be just the second trio to do so in that time frame if they stay that close.

Back in 2012, Jose Bautista, the AL Home Run Derby captain this year, was one of three in the Junior Circuit to notch 25 homers by the break.
Back in 2012, Jose Bautista, the AL Home Run Derby captain this year, was one of three in the Junior Circuit to notch 25 homers by the break.Nick Wass/Associated Press

Outside of Josh Hamilton (27), Jose Bautista (27) and Adam Dunn (25) in 2012, it hasn't happened from 2009 on. Whereas from 2000 through 2008, it occurred every year except for 2007.

And while it may be unlikely that each of Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion reaches the 30-homer plateau before the second half starts, they do have a little more than two weeks to try to get there. If they do, they would be in even rarer territory within MLB history:

Seasons in Which 3+ Players Hit 30+ HR by the ASB (All Time)
1998Mark McGwire (37)Ken Griffey Jr. (35)Sammy Sosa (33)Greg Vaughn (30)
1994Matt Williams (33)Ken Griffey Jr. (33)Frank Thomas (32)
1969Reggie Jackson (37)Frank Howard (34) Willie McCovey (30)
Baseball Reference

Whether you're watching along with each home run by Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion because of how tight their race is or simply for the sheer number of homers they're hitting—proximity to each other be damned—there's something to enjoy either way.

Friday night brought a little of both.

Statistics are accurate through June 27 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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