We have reached zero hour on Miguel Cabrera's quest for a second consecutive Triple Crown. It was in September last year when the Detroit Tigers superstar made his charge up the ladder to make history, but this season appears to be a different story.
Due to lingering abdominal and leg issues, Cabrera has sat out four of the last five games. The one game he did play was on Wednesday against Boston where he went 0-for-4 with one strikeout.
But even with the missed time, Cabrera is still very much in the running for the Triple Crown this season. He still leads the American League in batting average (.355) and RBIs (130) and trails Baltimore's Chris Davis by four home runs (47 to 43).
Time is slipping away from Cabrera, so let's take another look at his quest to make history once again.
Better Than Average
Cabrera's always been a great natural hitter, but something has been different with him this year. He took what already came easy to him and made it seem even simpler, at least when he was in peak physical condition.
He has gone from being supernatural in the first half to merely ridiculously good in the second half.
Before the All-Star break, Cabrera was slashing at .368/.458/.674 with 30 home runs and 95 RBI in 362 at-bats. Those numbers have "slipped" to .328/.408/.680 with 13 home runs, 35 RBI in 125 at-bats.
Putting some semblance of pressure on Cabrera in the batting average race is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. The 22-year-old stud has put together a monster second half to push his average up to .335. He's still 20 points behind Miggy, but things are a lot closer than anyone expected.
In fact, let's take a look at the month-to-month average trends for Cabrera and Trout this season.
The problem for Cabrera is not that he has fallen apart—his worst average of .288 would be the best month for a lot of players—but Trout is on fire.
Since the break, Trout is slashing at .370/.511/.596 with 16 extra-base hits in 146 at-bats. But is there enough time to catch Cabrera?
As of Friday, the Tigers have 22 games left and the Angels have 23 to play. Let's say Trout plays all of those games, which would translate to roughly 105 plate appearances using his average per game in 2013.
Since we also have to factor in Trout's walk rate, which would equate to 15 walks in 105 plate appearances, that gives him 90 more at-bats. He would have to record 41 more hits to reach the .355 mark.
However, it becomes difficult to say whether that total will hold because of where Cabrera and the Tigers are right now. The team is going to clinch the American League Central sometime within the next two weeks, I would venture to guess.
Given Cabrera's health and his importance to the team in the postseason, how much does Leyland actually play him? (Just to save time, know that this is a question that will be taken into account throughout the rest of this piece.)
If we say Cabrera plays half of the remaining games (11), averaging the same number of plate appearances (4.45), that would give him roughly 49 more at-bats.
Again factoring in Cabrera's walk rate, he would get seven more walks leaving him 42 more at-bats. Using his second half average of .328, Miggy would record approximately 14 more hits. His season numbers would be 187-for-529 (.353).
Cabrera is going to win this race. As great as Trout is and has been, that gap is just too wide with too little time left to play.
The RBI Machine
One of the benefits of hitting in the No. 3 spot behind Austin Jackson (.346 OBP) and Torii Hunter (.335) is that there are going to be plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. Even with the injury bug biting him, Cabrera's RBI rate per at-bat has actually gotten a little better in the second half (3.8 at-bats per RBI in the first half, 3.5 in the second half).
Despite missing four of the last five games, Cabrera still leads Davis in RBIs, 130 to 122. Davis' performance has dropped considerably since the All-Star break. He's put up a .248/.349/.510 line with 10 home runs and 29 RBI in the second half.
That's not a huge surprise because as much as Davis has improved his approach and walk rate, he still has too much swing and miss to remain a .300 hitter all year. That second-half slash line is more in line with what we should expect from him moving forward, which is still very good but not otherworldly.
Davis' RBI rate has dropped from 3.7 before the break to 5.4 in the second half. It also hurts his chances that Brian Roberts (.311 OBP) and Manny Machado (.323 OBP, .292 in the second half) are hitting in front of him.
Even with Cabrera not playing four of the last five games and going hitless in the one game he did play, Davis hasn't moved any closer in the RBI race because he hasn't driven anyone in since August 30 and he's played every game for the Orioles since that time.
Supposing Cabrera does play in just 11 more games, with 42 more at-bats and using his second half RBI rate, he would finish the season with 142 RBI.
That would force Davis to drive in 21 more runs to win the RBI crown this year. The Orioles have 23 games left, meaning the star first baseman would need to drive in one run every 4.1 at-bats based on the number of plate appearances he gets per game (4.2) and factoring in his walk rate (10.7 percent).
With Roberts and Machado not getting on base in front of him, it is hard to see Davis having enough time to catch up with Cabrera. It also doesn't help that Davis has fallen off in the second half.
No one else is close to Cabrera. Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion is third in the American League with 103 RBIs.
Once again, this is Cabrera's title to lose and no one else seems to have the momentum to catch him.
Can You Feel the Power?
The one category that Cabrera can't seem to break through this year is home runs. Even with Davis' problems in the second half, he's still slugging over .500 and seems to answer the call when Cabrera gets close to him.
With only four home runs separating them, Cabrera is as close to Davis as he has been since the end of June. Davis has had ample opportunities to get more breathing room in this battle with Cabrera not playing but is having issues driving the ball.
Since the start of August, Davis' isolated power (ISO), which measures all extra-base hits divided by at-bats, is just .152. To put that in perspective, Nate McClouth's season ISO is .143.
Davis hasn't homered since August 28 and has just three since August 14. Cabrera, despite the injury woes, has managed to hit five home runs during that same period.
Even with his issues since the break, Davis isn't going to stay at 47 home runs the rest of the year. It is hard to predict where he will end up because he has been so cold the last two weeks, but we know that with his raw strength a stretch of five home runs in a 10-game stretch is not out of the question.
Davis is on pace to hit 55 home runs. If he gets anywhere near that total, then Cabrera has no shot to catch him because the Tigers aren't going to play him enough to hit 12-13 more home runs.
Let's say, hypothetically, Davis winds up in with an even 50 homers at the end of the season. That means Cabrera is going to need seven more to tie and eight to outright win the home run title.
Based on my formula where Cabrera plays about half of Detroit's remaining games with 42 more at-bats left, which I admit might be a little on the conservative side, he would have to hit one homer every six at-bats to reach 50. His season average is one homer every 11.3 at-bats.
Given the physical limitations for Cabrera right now, coming up with a scenario where he is able to cut his HR/AB ratio nearly in half seems far-fetched.
We can also take a look at Cabrera's remaining schedule and how he has fared this season and in his career against the teams he will face down the stretch.
The schedule does not set up very well for Cabrera. He has to play in a lot of big ball parks (Kansas City, Seattle, Minnesota, Miami) to end the year.
With all those factors taken into consideration, even with a narrow gap in the home run race, Cabrera faces a steep uphill climb to become the first player in history to win the Triple Crown in consecutive seasons.
Davis has the added benefit of playing in Oriole Park, which is very hitter friendly, as well as the Rogers Centre in Toronto and Fenway Park. He will, however, be going up against better pitching staffs like Tampa Bay and Boston 10 more times.
I don't put anything past Cabrera because he just seems to get better as a hitter with age. But the Tigers have far bigger things to worry about than another Triple Crown for Cabrera. Miggy may not have enough opportunities to catch Davis.
If you want to debate the Triple Crown, or anything else baseball related, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.