Murphy, LeMahieu lead way in NL batting race

Murphy, LeMahieu lead way in NL batting race

DENVER -- A pair of the game's best contact hitters have convened at Coors Field this week, and seem on a collision course for the National League batting title.

Nationals infielder Daniel Murphy and Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu entered Tuesday separated by just 10 points for the NL lead, with Murphy pacing at .347.

Murphy took the Majors by storm last October when hitting homers in six straight games to lead the Mets to the NL pennant. Yet despite his heroics, he was a relative afterthought in free agency, going unsigned until early January. The Rockies even discussed signing Murphy to play first base internally, but moved on.

LeMahieu shares a clubhouse with All-Stars Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez. And even on a day teammate Charlie Blackmon was named NL Player of the Week, LeMahieu quietly put together his third four-hit game of the year in Monday's 5-4 loss.

"He's got really elite bat-to-ball skills, so he's really fun to watch," Murphy said. "He just has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. He's a lot of fun to watch offensively."

LeMahieu's four-hit game

LeMahieu's most productive attribute is his opposite-field ability. He's pulling just 22.2 percent of his batted balls, widening his outfield alley -- a beneficial quality when playing at cavernous Coors Field, as Murphy noted.

"It's one of the toughest things to do in baseball, is to be able to stay on the pitch and drive it through the off-gap," said Murphy, who is a career 34.8 percent pull hitter, an impressive low for a lefty. "DJ had four hits last night. He stung the ball four times and had a really good night."

"He uses the whole field," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Those are the guys that typically you think of in that way, a guy that can win a batting title. Shoot, he might win one this year."

LeMahieu has become more disciplined, too. He's swinging-and-missing at just four percent of the total pitches he's seen, third-best in the Majors, and in two-strike counts, he leads the NL with a .350 on-base percentage. He also has a higher batting average when behind in the count (.382) than ahead (.333).

"I think it's just a comfort thing," LeMahieu said. "I just feel relaxed, but nothing in particular that all of the sudden, I feel better this year."

Since the All-Star break, LeMahieu has narrowly out-hit Murphy, .345 to .342. On this date a year ago, Paul Goldschmidt led the Majors with a .337 average -- the exact mark LeMahieu currently boasts -- yet finished third for the NL crown.

Entering Tuesday, LeMahieu and Murphy had the same number of at-bats, 415, and Murphy had out-hit LeMahieu, 144 to 140. While there are another five players within 14 points of LeMahieu, his striking distance -- to become the third Rockies batting champion in the last four years -- is much smaller than it appears.

"That's going to be really, really hard to do," LeMahieu said. "My whole focus this year has been not giving up any at-bats and focusing, not taking anything for granted, battling every at-bat. That's what I'll continue to do for sure."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.