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The Strike Zone

Amid yet another burst of homers, Chris Davis hits 44th

Chris Davis is surging again after hitting a long home run in Arizona. [Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports]Chris Davis is surging again after hitting a long home run in Arizona. [Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports]

Chris Davis is on another roll. On Tuesday night, the Orioles slugger homered for the fourth time in six games, pushing his season total to 44. Thanks to his latest push, he still has a reasonable chance of equalling or surpassing Roger Maris' 1961 total of 61 homers, a mark that no longer represents the single season major league record but still stands as the AL record.

Facing the Diamondbacks' Randall Delgado in a scoreless game in the fourth inning in Arizona, Davis connected with a 91 mph fastball on the inside corner of the strike zone, driving it a long, long way for a two-run homer:

[mlbvideo id="29677635" width="600" height="360" /]

Since coming to the Orioles last year, Davis has shown a penchant for hitting homers in bunches. Twice last year, he hit three homers over a four-game span, once he hit five over a five-game span (including a three-homer game on August 24), and then late in the year he hit seven over a six-game span. He began this season by homering in four straight games, which gave him 11 over an 11-game span dating back to that year-ending flurry. He hit five in seven games during a stretch in late May, seven in a nine-game stretch in mid-June, four in a four-game stretch as June turned into July, then another streak of homering in four straight games leading up to the All-Star break, at which point he had already racked up 37.

Davis went homerless in his first 10 games of the second half, his longest drought of the season, but he got back on track on July 30, and now has seven homers over his past 13 games, including six in August. Even with Miguel Cabrera homering in four straight games and five of his last six coming into Tuesday, Davis still holds a seven-homer edge for the league lead, 44-37. At this writing, he's hitting .299/.374/.682, ranking second in the league in slugging percentage but first in total bases (294, seven more than Cabrera) and RBI (112, one more than Cabrera). Thanks largely to an 84-point gap in on-base percentage, he came into Tuesday trailing Cabrera by 1.7 Wins Above Replacement (6.9 to 5.2), with Mike Trout (6.5) and fellow Oriole Manny Machado (5.4) between the two in the rankings.

Still, Davis' season may yet put him in the history books. His total through the Orioles' 119 games projects to 60 over a 162-game schedule, and while he lacks much margin for error, it's not as though he has to pick up the pace significantly in order to surpass Maris' longstanding AL record. Such records may not carry quite as much cachet ever since Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds surpassed that number and were subsequently connected to performance-enhancing drugs, but prior to 1998, Hack Wilson's NL record of 56 homers stood since 1930. Wilson's record gave Senior Circuit hitters their own target to aim for in lieu of summiting Mount Maris, with the 54 homers by Ralph Kiner in 1949 and the 52 by Willie Mays in 1965 and George Foster in 1977 the most serious challenges, not to mention stellar seasons in their own right.

Record or no, Davis is crafting a similarly stellar season of his own while helping to give the Orioles a fighting chance at their second straight playoff berth following a 14-year drought. They came into Tuesday 65-53, five games out in the AL East but just two games back in the wild-card race. Alas, they lost ground in the division race and failed to pick up a game on the Rays when they frittered away a 3-0 lead against the Diamondbacks. Paul Goldschmidt led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a game-tying solo homer off Jim Johnson, and won it in the 11th with a walkoff homer off T.J. McFarland. The pair gave him 29 on the year, allowing him to surpass the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (28) for the NL lead.
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