Does Intense Division Race Make Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown Chase Easier?

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Does Intense Division Race Make Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown Chase Easier?
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Can Miguel Cabrera earn MLB's first Triple Crown since 1967?

Will being in a pennant race help Miguel Cabrera win the Triple Crown in the American League this season? 

As of Sept. 28, Cabrera leads the AL with a .327 batting average and 133 RBI. But his 42 home runs are one fewer than Josh Hamilton's total.

The last man to win a Triple Crown was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. When asked about Cabrera's chances to join him in baseball mythology, the legendary Boston Red Sox outfielder said being in a pennant race in 1967 distracted him from the achievement of leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBI.

"One thing's going to help (Cabrera) is he's in a pennant race,'' Yastrzemski told reporters, including ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes. "Of course, there's more publicity nowadays following him and everything else, what he's doing every day and so forth. In '67, the Triple Crown was never mentioned once."

As Yastrzemski alluded to, Cabrera is receiving far more scrutiny and attention in 2012 during his Triple Crown chase. Fans throughout the country can keep up with his performance in real-time, thanks to television and the Internet. So many more media outlets cover baseball nowadays. 

But is Yastrzemski right about a playoff chase helping distract Cabrera from his personal statistics and perhaps sharpen his focus? 

Personally, I think Cabrera has already shown that he's all too aware of contending for the Triple Crown. Since Sept. 18, when a three-hit, two-homer, six-RBI performance put the achievement within reach, Cabrera has batted 4-for-23 (.174).

He's been able to maintain his batting average and RBI leads, but trying to keep up with Hamilton for the home run lead might be making him press a bit. For all his power numbers, Cabrera is a line-drive hitter, and when he tries to hit home runs, it takes him out of his game. 

With six games remaining in the regular season, and the Detroit Tigers now holding a two-game lead over the White Sox in the AL Central, will Cabrera continue to focus on the Triple Crown? Perhaps feasting on Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals pitching will help him with that. 

Let's take a look at other hitters who came close to winning a Triple Crown in recent years (well, relatively recent) and whether being in a pennant race may have helped them late in the season.

Does Yastrzemski's theory have any merit?

 

Gary Sheffield, San Diego Padres: 1992

Sheffield won the NL batting title with a .330 batting average, but finished third in the league with 33 home runs and fifth with 100 RBI. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Gary Sheffield flirted with the Triple Crown in 1992.

In September, Sheffield compiled a .314/.385/.523 triple-slash average, but hit four home runs with only eight RBI. That was his worst month from a run-production standpoint. 

The Padres were never really in the NL West race that season. The Pads went 82-80, finishing in third place, 16 games behind the Atlanta Braves

For what it's worth, Barry Bonds was the NL MVP that season for a Pittsburgh Pirates team that won the NL East. Bonds, however, didn't lead the NL in either batting average, home runs or RBI.

 

Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants: 1993

With 46 home runs and 123 RBI, Bonds led the NL in both of those categories. However, his .336 batting average ranked fourth in the NL.

Bonds had seven home runs and 22 RBI that September, but his .300/.429/.610 slash average was the second-worst he posted in a particular month that season.

The Giants had a heartbreaking finish in the NL West, ending the season just one game behind the Atlanta Braves despite winning 103 games. Did San Francisco being in the playoff race help sharpen Bonds' focus that season? 

Bonds did win the NL MVP award, the second consecutive year he earned that honor.

 

Jeff Bagwell, Houston Astros: 1994

Bagwell led the NL with 116 RBI, 20 more than his next closest competitor. However, he finished second in the NL with a .368 batting average (Tony Gwynn was first with a .394 mark that season). His 39 home runs were also second, four fewer than Matt Williams' total. 

Unfortunately, the 1994 season was shortened by a players' strike. If Bagwell had been able to play in September, would he have caught Gwynn or Williams? Perhaps he could have taken the home run lead, but Gwynn had put the batting title out of reach. 

Bagwell may have benefited from the Astros competing for the NL Central title. Houston finished the season a half-game behind the Cincinnati Reds for the division crown.

For his efforts, Bagwell won the NL MVP award, getting a unanimous vote

 

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: 2007

Rodriguez has led the major leagues in home runs and RBI twice in his career, but he came closest to a Triple Crown in 2007. 

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Alex Rodriguez led the majors in home runs and RBI in 2007.

With 54 home runs, Rodriguez had eight more than Carlos Pena. His 156 RBI were 17 more than what Magglio Ordonez accumulated that season. 

But Rodriguez's .314 batting average wasn't even in the AL's top 10 that season. To be exact, he finished 13th in that category (believe it or not, he tied with Jose Vidro). 

However, Rodriguez putting up such great numbers did earn him the AL MVP Award. 

As you might expect, the Yankees were in the playoff race that season. They finished second in the AL East, but won the league's wild-card bid. 

 

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