Sometimes the baseball gods just aren't on your side. That certainly appears to be the case for Miguel Cabrera as he chases a second consecutive Triple Crown.
The Detroit Tigers star has been hobbled, to say the least, by an ailing abdominal issue and some leg problems that have really sapped everything out of his offensive game. That really is too bad, because he was on pace to do something really special one year after winning the American League Most Valuable Player award.
On the bright side, because his numbers and narrative are so strong, Cabrera will claim his second straight AL MVP trophy in November. But it is going to take a heroic, Babe Ruth-type effort for him to win another Triple Crown.
With just two weeks to go, here is our fourth look at how things are shaking out for Cabrera in all three Triple Crown categories and how we expect him to finish.
Not Your Average Hitter
In the first piece I wrote breaking down Cabrera's Triple Crown chances, I basically said there was no way he was going to finish second in batting average. He had a 30-point lead over Mike Trout and was on cruise control.
But as I learned, just because something looks like a foregone conclusion in baseball doesn't mean it will happen.
Cabrera has seen his average drop all the way down to .348 thanks in large part to a 3-for-22 start in September. It's funny that we can talk about him in a slump and still hitting .348.
But even more surprising than Cabrera's drop in average has been Trout's hard-charging ways. The Los Angeles Angels star has been a one-man wrecking crew for that team all season, kicking things into another gear with a .360/.511/.564 slash line in the second half. Those numbers have pushed his average up to .334 with 15 games left to play for both superstars.
However, playing devil's advocate, let's say that Cabrera plays 10 more games and maintains his average of 4.42 plate appearances per game. That gives him a total of about 44 more plate appearances before the end of the year.
It is hard to predict what kind of average Cabrera could conceivably post given his physical limitations right now, but for the sake of argument, let's put him somewhere in the .250 range for a total of 11 more hits.
We will also keep his walk rate (13.9 percent) this season the same. That would give him six more walks, leaving 38 at-bats to play with. If we are going to keep him in the .250 range, Cabrera would get somewhere around nine more hits.
Based on our calculations added to his current season total, Cabrera would finish the year with a .341 average (185-for-543).
Since Trout is in about as healthy a player as he can be this deep into the season, we will say that he plays in all 15 games the Angels have left. Using his current average of 4.56 plate appearances per game, that will give him 73 more times in the batter's box.
Trout's walk rate this season is 14.9 percent, meaning he will get a free pass 11 more times in 2013 with 62 at-bats to call his own. Since he is still healthy and at the top of his game, we can feel comfortable using his second-half batting average to calculate the number of hits he has left.
Based on the .360 mark he's posted since the All-Star Game, Trout will record 22 more hits. That puts his season average at .339 (203-for-595).
Using this formula, which is far from iron-clad, Cabrera would still squeak by in the race for the batting average title.
I am not quite ready to go far enough to say Trout will catch Cabrera. I can certainly envision a scenario where it happens because Trout is the best player in baseball and Cabrera isn't in peak form.
But 14 points is a lot of ground to make up with just 15 games to play. Even in the midst of his injury problems, Cabrera has only dropped 11 points in average since August 18.
The Quintessential Run Producer
Another race that has gotten much tighter than anyone would have expected at the start of September is between Cabrera and Chris Davis for the RBI title.
Cabrera's lead has dwindled down to four, 133 to 129, over the last week. He came into the month with a 130 to 122 advantage, but even that felt bigger because Cabrera was playing every day in a lineup that features Austin Jackson (.348 OBP) and Torii Hunter (.331 OBP) hitting in front of him.
Hitting in the middle of a really good lineup makes it that much easier to drive in runs, and Cabrera took full advantage of his opportunities.
What's the biggest obstacle standing in Cabrera's way of another Triple Crown?
But thanks to sparse playing time, especially at the beginning of September, Davis has been able to play catch-up. He's not exactly lighting the world on fire, with seven RBIs all month, but all of them have come in the last six games.
Davis and Cabrera have 15 games remaining. Cabrera still has the advantage in this category down the stretch, but not because of anything he is doing.
It's been an uphill battle for Davis in the second half of the season. He's still hitting well with a .261/.355/.537 line since the break, but that pales in comparison to the .315/.392/.717 mark he put up before the All-Star Game.
Another problem that Davis faces is his innate ability to strike out. Even when he was hitting well in the first half, the swing-and-miss elements of his game were still prevalent with 110 in 343 at-bats.
That issue has only gotten worse in the second half, as Davis has racked up 69 strikeouts in 188 at-bats. Combine that with the fact that the players hitting in front of him (Nate McLouth, Manny Machado and, at times, Brian Roberts) have posted a .311 OBP since the All-Star break.
As long as Cabrera plays enough, like the 10 games we penciled him in for, that should be enough to get his RBI total up to 140 given the talent around him in Detroit's lineup.
If that happens, Davis would need at least 13 to overtake the lead. The slugger hasn't had a stretch of 13 RBI in 16 games since the middle of August. No, it's not that long ago in normal times, but in baseball terms, one month is an eternity.
The walls are closing in around Cabrera, but the lead is still big enough and the lineup around him is better that I assume he will come out ahead in this race.
Cabrera started to close the gap on Davis in home runs when September started, getting within four, 47 to 43. Yet as soon as I mentioned that in last week's breakdown, Davis hit a home run in a series against the White Sox to stretch his lead back to six.
This is an instance where I feel much more comfortable saying that the race is over. Cabrera needs at least six home runs in 16 games if Davis doesn't homer again this year. Miggy has hit 13 home runs in the entire second half.
Using the formula we created for Cabrera in the batting average race against Trout, he will have 38 at-bats to get those six home runs. For non-mathematicians out there, that translates to one homer every 6.3 at-bats.
Even factoring in small sample sizes and random anomalies, Cabrera isn't going to hit that many home runs.
It's not impossible. In fact, Cabrera has had two stretches this season that were actually much better than that, but both of them came when he was in peak physical condition.
Miggy actually had six home runs in a four-game stretch from May 19-23, including that three-homer game against Texas on May 19. He also hit six home runs in an eight-game period covering 31 at-bats from June 25-July 2.
But you have to factor in a player's health, especially at this stage of the game. The Tigers have no reason to push Cabrera more than he is capable of because they are going to play in October.
As nice as the narrative of Cabrera winning another Triple Crown would be, this team is built to win a World Series. It needs him in the middle of their lineup and as close to 100 percent as possible to get there.
It also hurts that Davis probably isn't going to end the season at 49 home runs.
Here are some of the pitchers he's scheduled to face with their season total in innings and homers allowed:
|Todd Redmond, Toronto||10||63.2|
|Esmil Rogers, Toronto||18||125.0|
|Mark Buehrle, Toronto||23||189.1|
|Ryan Dempster, Boston||25||162.2|
|Jake Peavy, Boston||19||131.2|
|John Lackey, Boston||22||174.1|
Playing in the Rogers Centre and Camden Yards, two very good offensive parks, and Fenway which is one of the smallest parks down the right- and left-field lines, it seems like a stretch to say that 49 will be Davis' final total.
We also have to factor in the remaining schedule that Cabrera has, including how the parks play for home runs and offense.
|Opponent||Team ERA (Rank)||No. of Games||Park Effects HR Rank||Career Stats vs. Opponent||2013 Stats vs. Opponent|
|Kansas City Royals||3.53 (6th)||3 (Home)||13th||.328/.392/.548, 21 HR (107 G)||.293/.425/.569, 4 HR (17 G)|
|Seattle Mariners||4.32 (28th)||4 (Home)||24th||.316/.391/.506, 7 HR (46 G)||.333/.333/.533, 1 HR (3 G)|
|Chicago White Sox||3.92 (16th)||3 (Home)||7th||.286/.376/.511, 23 HR (105 G)||.270/.357/.595, 4 HR (11 G)|
|Minnesota Twins||4.38 (29th)||3 (Road)||23rd||.316/.397/.588, 27 HR (109 G)||.254/.380/.407, 2 HR (16 G)|
|Miami Marlins||3.79 (11th)||3 (Road)||29th||N/A||N/A|
There are not a lot of favorable parks in there for Cabrera. He has mastered the art of hitting at Comerica, so that isn't a huge problem. But Seattle, Minnesota and Miami are three of baseball's worst parks for hitters.
Combine that with the deficit Cabrera faces in the home run chase, and his odds are as long as they have ever been.
It's an unfortunate situation for him, as he has spent so much time baffling us with his hitting prowess, but as long as we get to see him in October, it seems like a fair trade to say he will "only" finish first in two of the three mainstream offensive categories.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me on Twitter with questions or comments.