With just over one month left in the regular season, Miguel Cabrera's quest for a second consecutive Triple Crown is still very much alive but not quite as strong as it appeared the last time we checked in on the chase.
Cabrera enters play on Monday leading all of baseball in batting average (.360) and RBI (128), while trailing Baltimore's Chris Davis in home runs (46 to 42). In MLB history, the only other players to have the numbers Miggy does through 130 games are Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Pretty good company to keep.
Time is running out for Cabrera in the home run chase with just 32 games to go, but we have learned over the last decade to never underestimate what the reigning AL MVP can do with a bat in his hands. He hit two homers this weekend against the Mets, closing the gap between him and Davis to four.
As we count down the final days of the season, I wanted to do a follow up on an article I wrote a few weeks ago breaking down the chances of Cabrera winning another Triple Crown by examining where he stands in all three categories and the competition around him.
Not Your Average Hitter
What we said before:
If there was ever a trophy for winning the batting average title, the company that makes it should just start engraving Cabrera's name on the plaque because that championship isn't going anywhere.
What we say now:
Cabrera's lead in the batting average race has actually decreased by nine points in the time since our initial breakdown. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout remains in second place with a .333 average, 21 points behind the Tigers slugger.
It's amazing that Trout's season is (sadly) getting overlooked because the Angels are so bad and Cabrera started the year by putting up video game numbers. But Trout has been the superior hitter in the second half, and it isn't that close.
Since the All-Star break, Cabrera has hit .316/.404/.684. That is an incredible slash line, one almost any player in baseball would love to have. Yet Trout has been surging, putting up a .374/.530/.606 line in 134 plate appearances.
Let's say, hypothetically, Cabrera and Trout keep up their respective second half performances through the end of the year. We can calculate what the batting averages for both would be using their average number of at-bats per game and doing some simple multiplication.
Using those stats, Cabrera would have 204 hits in 591 at-bats (.345) to Trout's 208 hits in 607 at-bats (.343).
This race that looked to be over as recently as early August just got a lot more interesting.
However, this isn't an exact science. Baseball is nothing if not fickle. Cabrera could go on a week-long tear where he hits .500 over the course of 32 plate appearances to push his average back into the .360 range, or Trout could go hitless in three straight games and see his average drop under .330.
I think Trout is such a good hitter that he will make this race much closer than any of us thought it would be two weeks ago, but Cabrera's lead is still so big that it would take a collapse the likes of which we have never seen from him to relinquish the crown.
Let's Hit With Men On Base
What we said before (Davis was ahead of Cabrera at the time):
Given the depth of their respective lineups, as well as the types of hitters they are, Cabrera has a great chance to catch and surpass Davis in this category.
What we say now:
As expected, thanks to where Cabrera hits in the Tigers lineup and who hits in front of him, the Tigers star has taken a lead in the RBI race with 123 to Davis' 116. It is still too close to proclaim things over, but Cabrera holds a plus-nine edge over Davis in this category since we last checked in on things.
One problem Cabrera faces trying to keep his lead is injury. As the season has worn on, the 2012 MVP has seen his body start to break down. Things haven't been so severe that a trip to the DL is in order, but a bad hip and leg have certainly taken their toll.
Even saying that, I see the highlight of Cabrera hitting a home run off Mariano Rivera after fouling two pitches off his leg and wonder what it takes to slow him down.
Assuming he doesn't miss time with injuries piling up, the pace he has kept up this season is incredible, and also speaks well of the hitters in front of him. Even during his second half "slide" (said with tongue planted firmly in cheek), Cabrera has driven in 28 runs in 25 games.
As long as Cabrera plays enough, he's going to win the RBI title again. He hits third in a lineup with Austin Jackson (.339 OBP) and Torii Hunter (.340 OBP) ahead of him.
By comparison, Davis hits third in a lineup with Nate McClouth (.340 OBP) and Manny Machado (.324 OBP, .281 in the second half). The opportunities for him to drive in runs aren't going to be as prevalent, meaning he has to take advantage of every chance in order to keep the pace with Cabrera.
After Davis, there's no one close to Cabrera in the RBI race. Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion is third in the AL with 93.
Show Me Your Power
What we said before:
Given his current pace, Davis is on track to hit 57 home runs. If he hits that pace, Cabrera has no shot because he isn't hitting 25 more home runs this season. As great as he is, that's one every two games, or one every 7.8 at-bats.
What we say now:
In my previous article, I pondered whether Davis would be able to keep up this home-run pace given that he was having problems making contact early in the second half (25 strikeouts in 64 at-bats).
A few weeks later, Davis has added six homers to his season total. Unlike Cabrera, who is easy to predict as a hitter because he's been so consistent throughout his career, Davis is a wild card.
Prior to this season, no one knew exactly what Davis was. He came up in Texas with a reputation for having a ton of power but not making enough contact to let it play in games. He finally got a chance to play every day with Baltimore in 2012, hitting 33 home runs with 169 strikeouts in 515 at-bats.
This year, while the strikeouts are still piling up (152 in 454 at-bats), Davis' approach changed just enough that he is walking more and driving pitches he can get a hold of. But he still has those streaky tendencies you will find with big power-high strikeout players.
For instance, after the All-Star break, Davis went 10 straight games without hitting a home run.
But time is running out for Cabrera to make a push for another home run title. He is still four back of Davis with 32 games left to play.
How do you make up that many homers in such a short amount of time?
Davis is still on pace to hit 58 home runs, meaning Cabrera would have to hit at least 16 more to tie for the league lead. That's an average of one homer every two games played. That's not going to happen, I don't care how good Cabrera is.
Using Cabrera's current rate of one home run every 11.4 at-bats and the formula we used earlier to calculate his remaining at-bats, he is on pace to hit 10 more homers for a season total of 52.
Under that circumstance, Davis can only hit six more homers for Cabrera to finish with a share of the lead. But Davis is hitting home runs every 9.9 at-bats, so it would take at least one more serious slump for Cabrera to catch him.
On top of that, Davis and Cabrera have homered on the same day 14 times this year. Just when it looks like Cabrera is going to put a dent in that lead, Davis answers with a shot of his own.
I think this is the category where Cabrera is going to fall short because Davis has been so good at matching him homer-for-homer and there just isn't enough time to make up the difference between the two.
Strength of Schedule
Since things don't tend to be as black and white as we like to think, like Davis' advantage in the home-run chase, it is important to examine the types of teams and pitchers Cabrera will be facing down the stretch.
Here is a look at what Cabrera and the Tigers have coming over the next five weeks, as well as Miggy's stats against those teams in his career and this season:
Another problem that Cabrera will face in the final month of the season is where they are playing. A lot of those games are in bigger parks that aren't always conducive to hitting home runs (New York, Oakland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Miami).
On the flip side, though, there is a lot of mediocre pitching coming Cabrera's way. Chicago, Cleveland and Boston are middle of the pack, while Minnesota and Seattle are well below average.
Davis faces a number of good teams down the stretch (Oakland, Boston, New York, Cleveland, Tampa Bay), but with the exception of a series at Oakland doesn't really have to deal with pitcher-friendly parks.
The worst hitter's park Davis will play in the remainder of the season after Oakland, as far as hitting home runs, is Fenway Park, one of the smallest stadiums in baseball which ranks 22nd with 0.894 per game. Everything else is ranked in the top half of baseball, according to ESPN.com.
All of this is to say that both Cabrera and Davis are going to find it difficult to add to their respective home run totals, but for very different reasons.
And The Results Are...
It just goes to show how arbitrary something like the Triple Crown really is, and why you don't see it happen more often.
Cabrera is having, in every conceivable way, a better year in 2013 than he did when winning the Triple Crown and AL MVP in 2012.
His batting average is 24 points higher, he's getting on base at a significantly higher rate (.447 to .393), slugging 70 points higher (.676 to .606), is going to finish with more home runs and RBI than he did last year but is still a long shot to win another Triple Crown because someone has been a little bit better.
At least Cabrera can rest easy at night knowing the Tigers will go back to the playoffs with a great chance to make the World Series and because of the narrative already built around him that a second consecutive MVP award is all but guaranteed.
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