For a minute there, it looked like the Detroit Tigers were going to win the Central and roll to their second straight World Series appearance.
And then, reality set back in. The charm of Miguel Cabrera hitting home runs while injured wore off and the magnitude of what could really happen to this team without him set in.
Admittedly, they do have many players on the roster that are solid, and he is not the only good player. Take the 18-1 Max Scherzer into account. He’s stepped up while former MVP-Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is having quite the slump this season (12-9, 3.68 ERA).
And how about Torii Hunter? A .305 batting average, 13 HR, 64 RBI. Pretty solid.
They are most definitely not the only other good players wearing the Old English D this year.
The point is, there is a lot of talent around Cabrera in Detroit this year. And there is also a lot of talent coming directly from him.
But after a recent hip flexor injury, a strained abdomen, and several foul balls off his leg (followed by a late-inning, game-tying home run off the legendary Mariano Rivera), Tigers fans remembered just how valuable he is.
His batting average took a dip during his recent injuries – all the way down to (an overwhelming league-best) .354. But he’s still producing, which is good. The Tigers have a five-game lead over Cleveland, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t all that comfortable.
On Aug. 8 Detroit stomped Cleveland 10-3 for its 12th consecutive win, and an eight-game lead on the rivals. Since then, they’re a flat 6-8, with a five-game lead. That’s not terrible, obviously, but it’s certainly not anything to get comfortable with.
So, with 36 games remaining (18 home, 18 away), the Tigers will need to do several things to take home a third consecutive AL Central title. The most obvious thing? Win enough games to hold the lead.
And the key to that is a healthy Cabrera. Sure, it is fun watching him chase a possible second consecutive Triple Crown. And with the season winding down with him so close to doing so (Leads BA with .354 and RBI with 123, trails in HR by six), it can be hard for Tigers fans, and most baseball fans as a whole, to say something very hard to say:
“I think they need to sit Cabrera for a few days, so he can be healthy for October.”
That’s very hard to say. Now take a deep breath, and say it.
In the long run, what will matter more? A World Series title, or making such history that will probably never be done again?
Okay, obviously, it will be painful to see “Miggytron” not at least try and complete the feat, but I think it will be a whole lot more painful for Tigers fans to see their team come up short of a ring again.
But hey, that’s not to say that if he takes a few days off that he won’t come back even hotter. And maybe Baltimore’s Chris Davis (46) will finally hit that slump everyone has been thinking he would all year.
The bottom line is, Tigers fans are getting sick of coming up short. They want their ring this year. But, they also want to see more history.
If they really want history without harm to the team’s chances of a title, look at Scherzer. He can become just the second pitcher to start a season 20-1, and possibly the only pitcher to ever start 21-1. And with his current record he is tied for the best win percentage in history (.947).
So there’s plenty of potential history there, if that’s really something Tigers fans need to look at as extra excitement as the season winds down.
While things are in fact winding down, this is when things also heat up. The Central will be tough to win down the stretch, as it is much improved from the last few seasons (minus the White Sox, who went in the complete opposite direction, to quite the delight of many Tigers fans). The Royals are still somewhat relevant, and the Indians are hanging around.
Detroit has three games remaining against Cleveland, a home weekend series. They’ve got six against the pesky Royals (three home, three away). Of the other 27 games, 19 are against teams currently with losing records
The last month and a half will certainly be a fun time, but the Tigers need to power through it to make sure that October is a lot of fun, too.