Chris Davis — baseball’s most maddening hitter

Prior to last night’s game in Baltimore, Chris Davis was riding a two-week-long slump. He had struck out 12 times in 22 at-bats over his past six games — all losses for the Orioles. Over the past 13 games, of which the Orioles lost 12, Davis batted just .170 with 24 strikeouts in 47 at-bats. Over two weeks, Davis was more likely to strikeout than put the ball in play. The Baltimore lineup crumbled as its cornerstone hitter turned into an offensive black hole.

For Davis, the slump came on the heels of an impossibly hot stretch that saw him hit nine home runs in the first 13 August games. He raised his average from .244 to .261 in the process, mostly feasting on the shoddy pitching of the Oakland Athletics. Davis looked locked in the same way he did in April of 2013. That month he hit nine home runs and helped set the tone for a 53-home run season. Of course, in that same season, his splits also featured a .211 July with 41 strikeouts and a .216 September with 37 strikeouts. In those down months, Davis combined to strike out 78 times in just 55 games. This year, Davis has already recorded two 40-plus strikeout months.

Over the past two nights against the Tampa Bay Rays, Davis has flipped the switch back in the right direction.

He’s done this:

And this:

Those are the kind of swings that make Davis one of the most feared hitters in the league when everything is going right. He has easy, effortless power and can hit home runs to all fields. When he slumps though, he really slumps. The slumps come and go, and are gone as quickly as they came, ever unpredictable. For Davis, it seems to take seeing just one meaty fastball deposited into the centerfield bleachers to regain his stroke and confidence at the plate. When Davis is locked in, there is a buzz in the ballpark. When he’s slumping, an overarching sense of defeat pervades the lineup and the crowd. Davis will get to 40 home runs this season, but has taken the choppiest of routes to get there.

For Davis and the Orioles, last night’s two-homer game must be a sign of things to come. Davis needs to show he can consistently produce without prolonged slumps sending him into a month-long tailspin. The Orioles need Davis to hit well to convince them that he really is a player to be invested in long-term. If the Orioles cannot retain Davis as he hits free agency, the lineup becomes greatly reduced and the window to contend may be slammed shut with finality. While Davis has his flaws as a hitter, his bat is the middle-of-the-order presence the Orioles must have if they are to keep pace with the Toronto Blue Jays or New York Yankees.

Chris Davis may always be the streakiest hitter in the league, but when he’s on, as he was last night, look out. The tiniest playoff chance remains on life support for the Orioles, but that glimmering hope will flicker out if Davis goes right back into a cold spell.

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