<
>
Insider

Slumping sluggers McCutchen, Harper, Heyward battle swing, confidence issues to get back on track

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Paul O'Neill played 17 major league seasons and, in that time, he had 2,105 hits, won the American League batting title in 1994 and hit at least .300 in six consecutive seasons. He was an excellent hitter and, like many of the best, he sometimes had the fragile psyche of someone who seemed to be standing on the edge of the performance cliff.

O'Neill would sometimes show his frustration with a bad plate appearance by walloping a water cooler or smashing his batting helmet or skipping angrily over the first-base bag. Sometimes, when he was especially low, this accomplished professional would turn to New York Yankees first-base coach Jose Cardenal and say, after another groundout, "Josey, I'll never get another hit!"

Because with all due respect to NFL quarterbacks, decathletes and those assigned to defend LeBron James, hitting a baseball thrown at nearly 100 mph with a rounded bat remains the single most difficult thing to do in sports. And this summer, we have seen the best of the best taken down by the challenge.

Giancarlo Stanton fell into a horrific slump in which he struggled to even make contact with pitches, his body repeatedly drifting away from home plate. In 29 games from May 7 to June 15, Stanton batted .118 -- .118 -- with 48 strikeouts in 115 plate appearances, and only two homers.

"Everybody sees the problem," one Miami Marlins staffer said in the midst of it. "Everybody knows what the problem is. But he needs a better feel."