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During the playoffs, much is made about the impact a star player has on his team, perhaps none more so this year than Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers. With a slew of lingering injuries throughout the 2013 season, questions are accumulating as to whether Cabrera’s presence in the Tigers lineup is anything close to what it was in years past.
Consider 2012: a healthy Miguel Cabrera followed by a productive Prince Fielder in Jim Leyland‘s lineup pushed the duo to combine for 247 runs-batted-in and 74 home runs. This is without Victor Martinez in the lineup, who was out for the duration of the season due to a torn ACL he suffered during an offseason workout. It goes without saying the power-duo may have seen better on-base percentages and perhaps production numbers had Martinez been healthy in 2012.
That was 2012, when Miguel Cabrera played in 161 games, and Prince Fielder played in every single one. (Prince Fielder doesn’t miss games).
Enter 2013: Cabrera missed 14 games this season due to a number of minor, yet game-affecting injuries. From hip, to groin, to abdominal strain, Cabrera struggled to play at full-strength for a majority of the last half of the season. He didn’t once land on the disabled list, instead, manager Jim Leyland opted to strategically rest him on getaway days between series. In rare cases, Cabrera missed entire series.
The update: there isn’t one. Cabrera is visibly still in pain, likely as a result of a strained groin he suffered during a series against the White Sox in September in which he tried to stretch a single into a double, was tagged out at second, and sat for a few minutes grimacing in pain. It wasn’t the first time Cabrera was pulled early from a game, and it may not be the last.
Cabrera is not playing on all cylinders, or legs, if you will. The groin injury (and perhaps more) is affecting his ability to drive the ball from the ground up, and the number of deep fly balls off his bat has dropped significantly.
One category to measure Cabrera’s decline is in Isolated Power (ISO), a statistic used to determine a batter’s raw power. In effect, the number shows how many extra bases a hitter will have per at-bat. Cabrera’s ISO dropped sixty points from the first half to the second half (.309-.249).
As to be excpected, Cabrera’s standard offensive numbers suffered as well. His batting average fell from .365 to .316, on-base percentage from .458 to .411 and most notably, his slugging percentage went from .674 to .565. In September and October, Cabrera’s slugging percentage was a mere .333, an incredibly un-Cabrera-esque and pedestrian number for the “slugger.”
The drop-off in power alone should lend some credence to the notion that Cabrera is simply not able to use his legs to drive the ball like he had earlier in the season, and throughout his career.
The playoffs only come once a year, and that’s when the Tigers are lucky enough to get in, so Cabrera will play, hobbled or not. As Jim Leyland simply put it “He’s not going to be playing healthy, but he’s going to play.”
So there you have it. Miguel Cabrera will play.
He will play, and Jim Leyland will hope that Prince Fielder finds his postseason stroke, and that the rest of the Tigers lineup will find their “occasional pop” at the right time.
Fielder’s postseason numbers are far from impressive. In three previous postseasons between Milwaukee and Detroit, Fielder has a .179 batting average with five home runs and eleven RBI. His postseason on-base percentage of .268 might be helped by the return of a healthy (and white hot) Victor Martinez batting behind him in the lineup, but with a hobbled Cabrera on the basepaths, run production will come at a premium for manager Jim Leyland’s 4-5 hitters.
What’s at stake for the Tigers?
With Cabrera in the lineup, the pressure on opposing pictures is undoubtedly higher, but so is the risk he will aggravate the injury, or suffer a new one. It’s a game Jim Leyland and GM David Dombrowski will have to play. If the Tigers are to reach their third straight ALCS, they will have to get help from Prince Fielder and other, more unlikely power sources.
Aside from the question of Miguel Cabrera’s health this postseason is the question of whether or not this year’s propensity for injury is a sign for things to come for the three-time AL batting champion.
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