Will Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander Break Down in Crucial Home Stretch?

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Will Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander Break Down in Crucial Home Stretch?
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The All-Star break is supposed to be just that—a break. From all of the pressures and problems that come with the marathon Major League Baseball season. For the Detroit Tigers, though, that respite has been interrupted by somewhat troubling news concerning two of their biggest stars: two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and former MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.

The two 31-year-olds underwent offseason surgeries to address injured core muscles, and as Cabrera told Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today on Monday, both are still dealing with lingering effects of the procedures and recoveries.

"There are times when I feel good, but there are always muscles that are tightening, muscles that are not functioning properly,'' Cabrera said via Ortiz. "It's part of the [recovery] process."

After having surgery last October, Cabrera got off to a slow start by his usual elite standards, hitting .277/.320/.415 in April. He has since turned his 2014 around and is currently hitting .306/.364/.534. His 34 doubles lead the AL and his 75 RBI top both leagues, although it's worth pointing out here that Cabrera's .534 slugging percentage is his worst since 2004—his first full season.

As for Verlander, who has been struggling through the worst season of his 10-year career after undergoing his procedure more recently in January, Cabrera revealed this: "The same thing is happening to Verlander, but the difference is he pitches every five days, so you don't see it as frequently."

On one hand, the fact that Verlander isn't quite right helps explain the poor season: His 4.88 ERA and 1.46 WHIP both represent career worsts. But even if it's somehow merely a matter of time and rest before Verlander finds his form, the non-stop grind of a season isn't exactly ideal for trying to recover from any injury, let alone a lingering one like this.

So the Tigers, contenders once again, now have to be wary of the health and performance of their two highest-paid players—both Cabrera and Verlander signed monster extensions worth $248 million and $180 million, respectively, the past two Marches—as the second half begins, as well as down the stretch and into October.

Detroit is seeking a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive year. Because of all that success, this clearly is a team not only built to win it all now but one that expects to—and needs to, after reaching the World Series in 2012, sandwiched around two trips to the ALCS.

With Cabrera and Verlander still battling through, fatigue is only bound to set in more as the season—and postseason—wears on. The Tigers went through just the same thing with Cabrera at the end of 2013.

"I think it has affected me quite a bit," Cabrera said via Ortiz. "Like last year, when in the last month I wasn't using my bottom half, my feet and the waist area."

Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Last September, Miguel Cabrera wasn't at full strength—and had just two extra-base hits—while battling through lower-body injuries.

Remember: The Tigers experienced an injured, worn-down Cabrera last September when he batted .278 with an impossibly low .333 slugging percentage due to a mere two extra-base hits (one home run, one double). He managed the same number in October (both home runs) and clearly wasn't healthy enough to produce like his usual self.

There are, however, a couple of silver linings in the wake of this news that Cabrera and Verlander are still ailing. The first is that there's enough time before the trade deadline for general manager Dave Dombrowski, who's always active this time of year as it is, to make a trade for some insurance and/or depth.

And second, at 53-38, the Tigers at the moment don't appear to have any legitimate opponents for the AL Central division crown. Their 6.5 game lead on the Kansas City Royals is the largest among any first-place team.

Cabrera acknowledged as much to Ortiz:

But as [Verlander] and I talked about, we're never going to offer any excuses for our performance. We always want to be out on the field and compete, and I think that's the most important thing we can do, compete and try to get past this tough time. And the main thing is we're in first place.

Plus, unless there are some dramatic standings shakeups, Detroit looks likely to match up with the winner of the AL East in the first round of the playoffs. That's actually not a bad thing this year, considering how that division hasn't been as strong as it usually is.

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Still, the Tigers potentially could have one of the Oakland Athletics or Los Angeles Angels—the two AL West rivals who currently possess the top two records in the majors—awaiting them in the AL Championship Series.

While Detroit has taken out Oakland each of the past two postseasons, a third straight time might prove too much, especially with how good the A's have been—and how much better they could be after acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Not to mention, the Tigers now have to consider the possibility that one or both of Cabrera and Verlander might not be at their best or even healthy when they're needed most.

 

Statistics are accurate through July 14 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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