Unlucky Stanton? Even without many bloop hits, Marlins slugger produces eye-popping numbers



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MIAMI — Major league home run and RBI leader Giancarlo Stanton believes he has been unlucky this season, and he might be right.

Scratch hits have been tough to come by for the Miami Marlins slugger, who went into the weekend with only 24 singles and was batting just .249. Last season he had 96 singles and hit .288.

He's confident his fortunes will improve, as will his average.

"It's going to take a while to get that up," he said. "Stay the course over the next weeks and months, and it should be back."

Not that the Marlins gave Stanton a record $325 million, 13-year contract last November because of bloopers and bleeders. His hits tend to produce dented balls rather than broken bats, and he's whacking mammoth home runs at his customary pace.

His 22nd homer of the season on Thursday against Colorado was a typical eye-popper — a laser drive whose trajectory likely never climbed above 20 feet before the ball slammed into the Rockies bullpen.

"I was running from first, trying to score on a double," teammate Christian Yelich said. "I thought it was going to hit the wall, and it went over. He's probably the only guy in the league where that's a homer."

By one estimate, Stanton has five of the nine longest homers in the majors, including a 484-foot shot last week at Colorado that ranks No. 1.

He drove in another run Thursday with a different kind of tape-measure blow — a two-out swinging bunt that came to rest on the third-base foul line. It was only his second infield single this year.

"Not the ideal hit, but whatever works," he said. "I need to rack those up for us."

The fourth-place Marlins could indeed use even more from Stanton, although it's tough to argue he has underachieved.

With 55 RBIs entering the weekend, he's on pace for a career-high 146, and his projected 58 homers would easily represent a personal best. Manager Dan Jennings said 60 homers is a possibility.

"Nothing this guy might do will surprise me," Jennings said. "He's a freak of nature."

Questions about his recovery from a beaning last September have stopped, although he still wears a face mask against right-handed pitchers. His success as a run-producer comes while playing half his games in vast Marlins Park, which has yielded the fewest homers of any stadium in the majors.

But Stanton also entered the weekend with a major-league-high 84 strikeouts, giving him a shot at an odd trifecta. He could become the first player to lead the big leagues in home runs, RBIs and strikeouts since Cecil Fielder of the Tigers in 1990, according to STATS.

Jennings said he's not concerned about Stanton's strikeout pace.

"I just want the big man to keep being the big man," Jennings said. "We'll take big 'G' just as he is. When he does impact the ball, there's damage coming."

But the strikeouts have weighed down the batting average, which was under .230 early this month. Many of Stanton's Ks have come with runners on base, and he's tied for sixth in the majors in runners left on base.

Only two of his homers have come with more than one runner aboard, in part because pitchers are anxious to work around him in those situations.

"I haven't been at my best there," he said.

When Stanton does make contact, he's batting .393 — no surprise because he hits the ball so hard. Just ask Yelich, who often bats ahead of him.

"It stinks being on third base when he's hitting," Yelich said. "You've got to keep your head on a swivel, and try to get out of the way the best you can if he yanks one down there."

With Stanton at bat, Yelich knows better than to expect many 40-foot dribblers.

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