Miguel Cabrera's Top 5 Threats in Each Triple Crown Category

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Miguel Cabrera's Top 5 Threats in Each Triple Crown Category
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Early Sunday, I wrote that talk of a second consecutive Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera wasn't such a far-fetched idea.

The best player in baseball then proceeded to tattoo Texas pitching for four hits, three home runs and five RBI on Sunday night, lengthening his lead in batting average and RBI over the rest of the American League while moving within one home run of the league lead.

More importantly, Cabrera proved something—he could really pull this off.

But to do so, he'll need to not only stay healthy but fend off some formidable competition in each category.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the biggest threats to Cabrera not only becoming the third player to win the Triple Crown twice, but the first player in baseball history to accomplish the feat in consecutive seasons.

 

 

Batting Average

Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

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I've lost count of how many times we have heard the phrase "He's going to win a batting title someday" when talking about Robinson Cano, the best second baseman in baseball.

A career .308 hitter, Cano has six .300 seasons on his résumé including a career-high .342 in 2006 when he finished third in the AL batting race behind eventual champion Joe Mauer (.347) and teammate Derek Jeter (.343).

As Jeter and the rest of the injured Yankees return to action, it will only make Cano a more dangerous hitter, one who has better protection in the lineup than he does now.

 

Alex Gordon, LF, Kansas City Royals

Since his breakout campaign in 2011, Alex Gordon has been among the best hitters in the American League, tied with Boston's Dustin Pedroia for the ninth-highest batting average at .304.

Gordon has taken to batting third in the Kansas City lineup, hitting .450 with a 1.115 OPS in the 10 games since manager Ned Yost made the switch.

While Gordon isn't going to become the first batter since Ted Williams to crack the .400 mark, there's no reason to think that he won't rank among the league leaders in batting average when the season comes to an end—especially with a perennial .300 hitter in Billy Butler hitting cleanup.

 

Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

A three-time AL batting champion, the last title coming in 2009 when he hit .365 en route to winning the AL MVP award, Joe Mauer is one of the best hitting catchers of all time and one of the best hitters, regardless of position, in the game.

Health is a major issue for the 30-year-old, and the more often that the Twins can get Mauer out from behind the plate, the better for both the team and Mauer's chances of contending for his fourth batting crown.

 

David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

You laugh at the thought, but don't sleep on David Ortiz giving Miguel Cabrera a run for his money.

Healthy after an injury-shortened 2012 season that saw him hit .318 in 90 games, Ortiz has four .300 seasons under his belt and continues to defy age by swinging the bat as well as he ever has.

Ortiz enters the third week of May with a .364 batting average, just short of the required number of plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders, but a mark that ranks second in the AL. If he can stay in the lineup on a daily basis, a career-best batting average and first-ever batting title could be in Big Papi's future.

 

Mike Trout, LF, Los Angeles Angels

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Yes, Mike Trout is hitting a rather pedestrian .278, but are you really going to sit there and say that Trout can't go on a tear and find himself among the league leaders in batting average as the season rolls along?

That would be like saying that Trout would never be able to meet, much less exceed, the lofty expectations that were placed upon him as a rookie last season. You know, when he hit .326 and gave Miguel Cabrera a run for his money as the AL MVP—at least in the court of public opinion.

Until Trout proves otherwise, you simply can't count the talented sophomore with the sweet swing out of the race.

 

 

Home Runs

Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays

It's easy to forget that had Jose Bautista not injured his wrist, prematurely ending his 2012 season, we might not be talking about Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown.

Bautista had 27 home runs in 90 games (ignoring the five plate appearances over two games in August when he tried, and failed, to avoid season-ending surgery)—seven more than Cabrera had at the same point in the season.

A two-time league leader in the category, Bautista has hit 133 home runs since the beginning of the 2010 season, spanning 438 games. Cabrera? 123 home runs in 514 games.

With nine home runs on the 2013 season, Bautista has proven that he's healthy—and a healthy Bautista is a legitimate threat to challenge for the AL home run title once again.

 

Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

Special players bring big-time power and a .300 batting average to the table.

Like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano is a special player.

Coming off of a season that saw him set a new career high with 33 home runs, Cano sits in a four-way tie for the league lead with 12 bombs in 2013, on pace to shatter last year's impressive mark.

 

Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

While Chris Davis has undeniably slowed down after a torrid start to the season, one that saw him hit four home runs in the first four games of the year and nine in the month of April, he remains tied for the league lead with a dozen blasts on the season.

Like Cano, Davis hit a career-best 33 home runs in 2012 and is on pace to shatter that mark in 2013. While Davis doesn't have the lengthy track record of major league success like Cano and some of the other candidates, there's never been any doubt that Davis' swing packs a lot of power.

Just entering the prime of his career, Davis will be right there with Cabrera among the league leaders in home runs at the end of the season.

 

Adam Dunn, DH, Chicago White Sox

Adam Dunn hits home runs.

That's pretty much all Adam Dunn does—well, that and strikeout—and he does both as well as anyone in baseball.

Dunn passed the 40-home run mark for the sixth time in his career last year, proving that he remains one of the most dangerous sluggers around. With 10 blasts on the season, Dunn has a legitimate shot at adding another 40-home run season to the ledger.

 

Edwin Encarnacion, DH/1B, Toronto Blue Jays

This was a tough call between Encarnacion and Mark Reynolds, both capable power hitters who are part of the four-way tie for the home run lead in the AL with a dozen bombs each.

While Reynolds has a longer track record of hitting for power at the big league level, I give the nod to Encarnacion, who finished 2012 with 42 home runs, two behind Cabrera for the league lead.

Both play in hitter-friendly parks, but with the retractable roof in Toronto, things like wind and humidity can be controlled—allowing the ball to face less resistance in the air and travel farther than it would with the roof open.

It's not much of an advantage, but it's enough of one for me to like Encarnacion's chances of challenging Cabrera for the league lead over those of his counterpart in Cleveland.

 

 

RBI

Billy Butler, DH, Kansas City Royals

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

A slow start to the season has Billy Butler staring at a wide gap between himself (30 RBI) and Cabrera, leading the league with 47—but the Royals are capable of putting runs on the board in a hurry.

With Alex Gordon's ability to get on base now directly ahead of him in the lineup, Butler is sitting on some prime run-producing real estate in Kansas City and is capable of putting runs on the board when he steps to the plate.

 

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers

Arguably the best third baseman in baseball, Adrian Beltre has done his part in making up for the loss of Josh Hamilton's bat in Texas this season, hitting for power and putting runs on the board for the Rangers.

Like Butler, Beltre, with 28 RBI on the season, has a lot of ground to make up to catch Cabrera. But playing in one of the game's most hitter-friendly ballparks in Arlington, Beltre is capable of making up ground in a hurry.

 

Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

The only other player in the AL with at least 40 RBI this season, Chris Davis doesn't rely only on the long ball to produce runs in Baltimore's lineup, picking up at least one RBI in nine games that didn't feature a Davis home run.

As long as the pieces ahead of him in Baltimore's lineup (Nate McLouth, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones) stay healthy, the first 100-RBI season of his career is well within reach for the 27-year-old slugger.

 

Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers

Elsa/Getty Images

Cabrera's partner-in-crime in Detroit, Prince Fielder has been one of the most consistent run producers in baseball over the course of his career, eclipsing the 100-RBI mark five times in his seven full seasons.

Hitting behind Miggy in baseball's most potent lineup, Fielder is always a threat to put runs on the board, whether there's a runner on base ahead of him or not.

 

Josh Hamilton, RF, Los Angeles Angels

No, Josh Hamilton is not having a good season with the Angels, and yes, perhaps his defection to Los Angeles is an example of the grass not always being greener.

But you simply can't discount Hamilton's ability to produce runs. Capable of driving in 30 or more runs in any given month, Hamilton, along with the Angels offense, is simply too talented for their combined struggles to continue throughout the season.

Hamilton remains a very dangerous player at the plate, and his chances at contending for the RBI lead are very real.

 

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