It finally happened. After what seems like a season of sitting in the gloomy shadow of the Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Tigers (83-72) finally leapfrogged their bitter rivals on Wednesday night, taking sole-possession of the lead for the AL Central.
A 5-4 win over Kansas City coupled with a Sox loss to Cleveland puts Detroit in the driving seat with just seven games to play. For Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta and the entire Tigers team, the move will be something of a relief.
The Tigers find themselves in a division or bust situation. Too many games behind Wild Card leading Baltimore and Oakland, Detroit has to win the division or go home early. There’s not a single sole in Michigan that isn’t aware of that, and for one man such a failure would have an added bitter taste.
Miguel Cabrera finds himself with a legitimate shot at winning the AL Triple Crown for batters. But how would such an award feel if the third baseman was to sit and watch the postseason from home?
The last Triple Crown was awarded in 1967 when Boston leftfielder Carl Yastrzemski tallied 44 homeruns and 121 RBIs alongside a batting average of .326. The Red Sox went on to the World Series that season, losing to St. Louis in seven games.
Cabrera currently finds himself oh so close to replicating Yaz’s feat.
The Detroit power hitter currently leads all American League batters with a .327 average and 133 RBIs. That’s two-thirds of the Triple Crown achieved.
With 42 homeruns, Cabrera trails Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers by just one homer. He’s also tied with Edwin Encarnacion of the Toronto Blue Jays, but in terms of the Triple Crown, a tie is as good as a lead.
So, with seven games left, can Cabrera achieve the unthinkable and take home the first Triple Crown in 45 years?
Oddsmakers seem to think he can. Bovada has Cabrera at -135 (Yes) and -105 (No). That’s not much leeway between but that’s a definite vote of confidence.
The toughest part for Cabrera will be outscoring Hamilton in homeruns. The Texas big-hitter has been on fire this season, and started to heat up down the stretch. Still, one homer’s difference can be eclipsed in a game, unless Cabrera has another 0-4 game like on Wednesday night.
In terms of RBIs, Cabrera looks like he has enough daylight between him and Hamilton (124 RBIs), while his average, which has dipped slightly over the past two games is getting perilously close to both Joe Mauer (.323) and Mike Trout (.323).
With series at Minnesota and Kansas City still ahead, the Detroit third baseman will have the opportunities to pad those numbers a bit more.
An MVP Award To Boot?
Of course, if Cabrera does win the Triple Crown it will be unfathomable to imagine the third baseman not being awarded the MVP award for the American League.
As it stands, even without taking the crown, Cabrera is the oddsmakers’ favorite to take the MVP over Mike Trout of the Angels. Bovada has Cabrera at -150 to take the award and Trout at +120. Nobody else appears to even be in consideration, which is understandable given what the two have already achieved this year.
So, with just one week left on the calendar, all eyes will be on Cabrera as he attempts not just to take home that elusive Triple Crown award but also lead his team into the postseason. Anything less than postseason play will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, award or not.
AL Leaders (Triple Crown Categories)*
1. M. Cabrera (DET) .327
2. J. Mauer (MIN) .323
3. M. Trout (LAA) .323
4. D. Jeter (NYY) .320
5. A. Beltre (TEX) .315
1. J. Hamilton (TEX) 43
2. M. Cabrera (DET) 42
3. E. Encarnacion (TOR) 42
4. A. Dunn (CWS) 41
5. C. Granderson (NYY) 40
1. M. Cabrera (DET) 133
2. J. Hamilton (TEX) 124
3. J. Willingham (MIN) 110
4. E. Encarnacion (TOR) 107
5. P. Fielder (DET) 104
*Through September 26, 2012