MLB hitters slow out of the box to start 60-game season

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Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich strikes out during an intrasquad game Tuesday, July 21, 2020, at Miller Park in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

NEW YORK – Two-time defending NL batting champion Christian Yelich has a long way to go if he wants a three-peat. The Milwaukee Brewers star is 1 for 27 to start the season, an .037 average that's worst among qualified hitters.

Not by much. Houston's George Springer is batting .048, and teammates Jose Altuve — another two-time batting champ — and Alex Bregman aren't much better at .174.

It's not just those big names. Coming off a condensed preseason camp for a 60-game season truncated by the coronavirus pandemic, hitters are stumbling out of the batter's box.

“At this point, just like you see in spring training, the pitchers are a little bit more ahead of the hitters,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Wednesday.

The league-wide batting average after Wednesday's games is .229, down from .252 last season even though the National League adopted the designated hitter for this season. The all-time low for batting average is .237, set in 1968, “the year of the pitcher.”

Strikeouts are up for the 15th straight season — 24% compared to 22.4% in 2019, if you exclude pitchers from last year’s tally. Meanwhile, the home run rate is down a year after extra-slick baseballs helped produce a record 6,776 big flies.

It’s no sample size fluke, either. Batters have taken over 6,000 plate appearances.

And although hitters often start slowly in March and April, this collective slump is far worse than anything seen in recent years.