The pressure of a pennant race and playing in one of baseball's top pitcher-friendly ballparks certainly isn't fazing Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera during his pursuit of the first Triple Crown in 45 years.
His 4-for-5, one-homer performance in the Tigers' 6-3 victory over the Royals at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Monday night not only helped the team clinch the American League Central title but helped the third baseman pad his lead in the Triple Crown categories: batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
Cabrera, 29, enters Wednesday evening's contest with a .331-.324 edge in average over Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout and a 11-RBI advantage over Texas' Josh Hamilton (139-128). Cabrera's first home run at Kauffman Stadium this season put him alone in first, followed by Hamilton (43), Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion (42), Chicago's Adam Dunn (41) and New York's Curtis Granderson (41), his former Tigers teammate.
"He's got a lot of abilities to do it," Granderson said of Cabrera's Triple Crown quest during an interview last week in Toronto. "I think the one thing that everyone was probably afraid that he might not do is hit home runs at [Detroit's spacious Comerica Park] but he's proven he can hit them there [28 this season] and hit them everywhere else [16 at 10 other parks]."
Through Sept. 30, Comerica Park on average had surrendered the sixth-fewest home runs per game this season in the American League at 1.96, while Kauffman Stadium has been even tougher on sluggers with only 1.85 homers hit per contest, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker.
Carl Yastrzemski was the last player to win the Triple Crown when he hit .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBIs for the Boston Red Sox in 1967. According to STATS LLC., a player has finished atop his league in two of the three categories 45 times since then, with batting average being the spoiler in 41 of those near-misses.
Cabrera probably will be the Tigers' designated hitter in the final two games of the regular season to limit the wear and tear on his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame.
The fact the Venezuelan has played at first base, DH and third this season, Granderson said, has allowed Cabrera to maintain and keep as much energy as he needed through a taxing 162-game regular season.
"It's just the way his body's built," said Granderson, Cabrera's teammate in Detroit during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. "He knows how to push [his body] and when to pull back when he needs to, gets his rest when he needs to.
"He's loose, relaxed and has fun playing baseball."
In Cabrera's favour, noted the six-foot-one, 195-pound Granderson, is his size advantage over many major leaguers, plus the fact he's on par with Hamilton, Encarnacion and Dunn in hand/eye co-ordination.
The right-handed hitting Cabrera also has tremendous lineup protection in the form of Prince Fielder, who batted cleanup behind Ryan Braun last season in Milwaukee when the latter was named National League MVP. Through Oct. 2, Fielder was hitting .312 this season with a .410 on-base percentage, 30 homers and 108 RBIs.
"Prince is a great hitter and a guy you always have to worry about," Granderson said. "He's a left-handed bat so you can't go ahead and make pitching changes [and bring in a right-hander] to face Miguel and whoever the right-hander happens to be behind [Fielder]. It [Fielder's presence] definitely does a lot of things.
"You just can't say, 'OK, we got Miguel out of the way, let's relax.' You've got a very dominant threat waiting for you and that helps [Cabrera] a lot."
Power to all fields
Cabrera has been pulling most of his home runs to left field of late, but lined a 0-1 sinking fastball off Kansas City lefty Bruce Chen the other way into the Tigers' bullpen in right-centre on Monday. When they were teammates, Granderson said he marvelled at Cabrera's ability to hit with power to all fields.
"He's going to find a way to [win the Triple Crown] but he's going to go out and try to help his team win ball games," said Granderson. "I don't think he's focused on [the Triple Crown] too much [but rather] getting to the post-season."
It is said that winning the Triple Crown takes a special blend of power, discipline, consistency and luck. Cabrera is nothing if not consistent as he is on track to hit at least .320 for the seventh time in eight seasons and only twice has played fewer than 158 games.
Granderson said Cabrera understands what pitchers try to do to get him out and is effective at executing his plan, saying the slugger never goes to the plate thinking he must hit a home run but is capable of doing so on any pitch.
The Tigers' infielder is batting .339 since the all-star break and hit .324 in the first half. Cabrera is also big in the clutch, a .348 hitter with two outs this season and hitting at a .356 clip with runners in scoring position.
"Miguel puts up these numbers every year, so it isn't a surprise that he's got a chance at the Triple Crown," Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who took a homer away from Cabrera on Sept. 26 in Detroit, told reporters. "He's just an incredible hitter, and he's respected by everyone in the game."
Cabrera was 7-for-23 (.304) with two home runs and four RBIs in his career against Jeremy Guthrie entering Tuesday's contest and went 2-for-3 with two RBIs in a 4-2 loss. He's a .364 hitter (4-for-11) with a homer and three RBIs versus Wednesday's scheduled starter, Luis Mendoza.
"That's the ultimate, to win the Triple Crown," Baltimore slugger Jim Thome told reporters. "I think it would be good for baseball. I think it would be good for kids of our era to say that they watched a Triple Crown.
"If you're a kid in Detroit, how could you not want to see a Triple Crown?"
NOTE: Should Cabrera and Hamilton finish tied for the home run lead, Cabrera would still win the Triple Crown, as Yastrzemski did when he finished even with Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?