Sometime during today's Phillies-Astros game, Houston phenom Hunter Pence is likely to qualify for the National League batting race. He nearly qualified after Tuesday's game against Philly, which he won with a walk-off home run in the 13th inning, but as he awoke this morning he had 260 plate appearances, just shy of the 260.4 he needed (3.1 PAs per every team game played) to show up in your hometown paper's hit parade table.
Upon reaching the number of PAs necessary, Pence is likely to debut in the No. 2 slot in the batting race with a .345 average. Colorado's Matt Holliday (.349) with Chicago's Derrek Lee (.339) in second.
Just how rare is it for a rookie to win a league batting crown?
It's only happened twice in baseball history and never in the National League: Ichiro in 2001 and Minnesota's Tony Oliva in 1964. (Oliva would win again in '65. The guy could hit a little.)
The competition is stiff, but it would be unwise to discount Pence's chances. Though he doesn't have the vastness of the Coors Field outfield working for him the way Holliday does, or the friendly confines of Wrigley Field as Lee does, Pence has a right-handed hitter's haven of his own in Minute Maid Park, where he is hitting .372 in 137 at-bats this season.
And despite his lack of walks so far (only 10), Pence's minor-league track record -- he walked 60 times in 523 Double-A at-bats last year -- shows he does have the ability to be patient at the plate. He's just too busy raking right now to bother.
With the Craig Biggio 3,000 march over and the Rocket no longer on the club, at least Astros fans will have Pence to root for the rest of the season as he pursues the batting crown and the Rookie of the Year award, for which he is currently the runaway leader ahead of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Cincinnati's Josh Hamilton.
Pence went 2-for-5 with a solo home run on Wednesday against the Phillies, raising his average to .346.