Sunday, September 23, 2012

Miguel Cabrera Threatening Triple Crown

Cabrera's torrid hitting has him on the verge of making baseball history (CBS)
The Detroit Tigers mauled the Minnesota Twins 8-0 at Comerica Park yesterday to move within half a game of the division leading Chicago White Sox.  Doug Fister fired a complete game shutout, striking out seven and tossing 117 pitches to preserve Detroit's bullpen for today's crucial doubleheader.  Jim Leyland's Tigers scored early and often, scoring all eight of their runs in the first four frames and sending Twins starter Sam Deduno to an early shower.  Austin Jackson belted his first pitch out of the park and Detroit chased him from the game with a five run third inning keyed by Delmon Young's three-run jack.

Their scoring was punctuated by Miguel Cabrera's solo shot off Anthony Swarzak, a towering fly ball into into the left field seats. All Josh Willingham could do was admire the majestic drive as it sailed over his head and the fence.  It was Cabrera's only hit of the day, but he made it count.  This booming big fly was Miggy's 42nd of the season and tied Josh Hamilton for the major league lead. MC Hammer's .332 batting average is still tops in the Junior Circuit, and his 131 RBI lead both leagues. For good measure, the seven time All-Star also leads all hitters in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases, extra base hits, and runs created (tied with Ryan Braun), building a compelling case for his first Most Valuable Player award. It's been a banner year for Cabrera, the finest of his Cooperstown bound career.

But right now, there's only one question on everybody's mind: can Cabrera win the Triple Crown?

Not since 1967 has somebody led the league in home runs, RBI and batting average so late in the season. That player was Carl Yastrzemski, of course, the last man to win a Triple Crown.  With a week and a half of games left to play, Cabrera is poised to accomplish a feat that hasn't been achieved in 45 years. If he pulls it off, he will make some pretty impressive history. Since 1900, the Triple Crown has been achieved 13 times by eleven different players (Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams won it twice) but never by a third baseman. In fact, no infielder has done it since Lou Gehrig in 1934.  A Detroit Tiger hasn't hit the trifecta since 1909 when Ty Cobb became the first and only Motown masher to do so.

But Cabrera has always been a perennial Triple Crown threat. He's a machine.  Every year he stays healthy, puts up monster numbers and finds himself at or near the top in multiple offensive categories. He's already won a batting title (last year), been a home run champion (2008) and ranked first in RBI (2010), just not all in the same season. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the only other active players with "career" Triple Crowns. He's clearly surpassed Pujols as the premier right-handed batter in the game. Joey Votto may still be the better pure hitter, but a torn meniscus sidelined him for much of the summer and he's failed to go yard since returning to action on September 5th. Right now, Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball, and it's not really close.

Fueled by a late season power binge (ten homers in his past 20 games), Detroit's slugging third baseman has finally caught Hamilton, who's dealing with a sinus issue and recorded just one at-bat this week. The 2010 AL MVP flew back to Texas for some tests and will miss today's series finale with the Mariners, but his status beyond the weekend remains uncertain. And with the Rangers guaranteed to clinch a playoff berth any day now, don't expect them to rush Hamilton back.  They'll want their superstar healthy and fully rested for October as they look to capture their third consecutive American League pennant, something no team has done since the days of Joe Torre's 1998-'01 New York Yankees dynasty.

Cabrera has used his September surge to capitalize on Hamilton's absence, but he's not in the clear just yet.  His RBI lead appears to be safe, but Mike Trout is still in the mix for the batting title, and he's fully capable of catching fire at a moment's notice. Hamilton is always a threat to go on a tear, depending on when he returns.  Edwin Encarnacion trails the leaders by just two home runs, while Curtis Granderson and Adam Dunn are sitting on 39 bombs.  Any of them could make up that ground in one game.

Today's doubleheader represents a prime opportunity for Cabrera to feast on Minnesota's feeble pitching staff.  The Twins have the worst ERA in the American League and have allowed the second most home runs despite calling pitching-friendly Target Field home.  Expect Miggy to inflict additional damage today at their expense, for he owns a 1.282 OPS and 21 RBI in 13 games against them this season.  P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond are today's probable starters/victims.  If the Tigers sweep and Chicago loses, Detroit will vault into first place.  They will be alone at the top of the division for the first time since July 22nd.

And for that they can thank Cabrera, their one-man wrecking crew.

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