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Miguel Cabrera Bidding To Win First Triple Crown Since Carl Yastrzemski

A serious Triple Crown candidate is emerging in Detroit.

Miguel Cabrera’s 18 homers and 53 runs batted in pace the American League and he ranks fourth in batting average (.339).

I know precisely what you’re thinking. It’s the second week of June.

How dare you utter “Triple Crown”!

Well, let’s look at it this way—with each mention of the feat, writers offer a refresher course in history.

Who was the last player to earn the Triple Crown?

Carl Yastrzemski.

When was this feat last achieved?


Through print, we honor those who achieved this suddenly unachievable conquest with each mention. So if you believe it’s premature to link Cabrera to this group of conquistadors, simply focus on the respect element.

Yaz’s family certainly likes seeing their kinsman cited 27 years after his retirement.

One of baseball’s smallest clubs, only 15 players are members in the Triple Crown Society. Not even Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez, today’s top MLB players, have procured this distinction.

It has become virtually unattainable.

Back to Cabrera. Logic does not indicate it’s too early to begin the discussion. Sure it’s only June, but the first baseman’s track record suggests he has a better chance than most.

Cabrera annually finishes near the top in dingers and RBI’s, and has placed as high as runner-up in batting. In the past five years, the average for AL batting champs has been .346—Miggy lurks seven points away.

Eight months removed from swearing off alcohol, his approach is no longer influenced by hangovers or mental lapses resulting from late night partying. Cabrera is on pace to shatter previous career highs.

He’s projected to wrap 208 hits, slug 51 homers, and plate 149 runners.

Health issues might also trip up less extraordinary players on the long-distance run to the Triple Crown.

But the 27-year-old has taken a few chapters out of the Iron Horse’s book. Cabrera’s never been placed on the disabled list in his eight-year career. In each of the past seven seasons, he has played at least 157 games.

Cabrera defines reliability.

And this isn’t the first year he has flirted with the Triple Crown. He often places top-five—even top-three—in the required categories, and he’s regularly mentioned in the same sentence as Prince Albert and A-Rod.

Now, if you believe this achievement may be surmountable, we must address the obstacles he will face en route.

Since no one has grabbed the distinction in 43 years, press covering the anomaly could grow overbearing. Interview-seekers would flood Cabrera’s voicemail and inbox—and his name would be plastered on headlines across the US.

A pair of Twins—Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—along with Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, won’t willingly let Cabrera coast to a batting title.

Morneau is terrorizing the league, emerging as another Triple Crown contender. And Cano is blistering the ball at a .376 clip. Combined, usual suspects Mauer and Ichiro have won five batting titles since 2001.

This foursome will present Cabrera’s biggest challenge.

Division rival Chicago will also attempt to stand in the way of history. Detroit plays the White Sox 14 more times in 2010, a team that gives Miggy fits. In 177 career at-bats against Ozzie Guillen’s crew, he has hit .243.

This year, he’s a measly 1-for-14. Normally allergic to extended slumps, the White Sox have neutralized his bat.

While the odds Cabrera will complete the feat are low, spectators outside of Detroit need to recognize history may be in the making.

Keep your eyes glued to Miguel Cabrera this summer.

One of the best pure hitters of this generation is having a career year.

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Bullpen Bullies Give Detroit Tigers MLB’s Top Pen

Overtaxed, Detroit’s bullpen has been regularly thrust into high-pressure situations despite a cumulative lack of major league experience.

But as improbable as it sounds, the Tigers employ the most effective pen in the majors.

Let’s wrap ourselves up in numbers for a moment.

Through 43 games, the Tigers bullpen ranks first in MLB in earned run average (2.34), home runs surrendered (six), and slugging percentage against (.296). Of the seven contributors, only one posts an ERA above 2.90 (Phil Coke, 3.54).

Wasn’t the strength of the pitching staff supposed to rest within the starting rotation?

Eddie Bonine, one of the most unsung relievers in the game, has surrendered a run in just two of his 17 outings. Emerging stalwart Ryan Perry ranks third in the American League in holds (eight) and strikes out roughly one hitter an inning. Meanwhile, Coke has collected holds in unlikely situations and proved reliable when the game is on the line.

With trusted mainstays Bobby Seay and Zach Miner shelved, unproven replacements regularly hand the lead to setup man Joel Zumaya and closer Jose Valverde. Atop the bullpen hierarchy, these two have achieved a dominance unseen in recent Tiger history.

Zumaya regained the mastery he left back in 2006, when he punched out 97 in 83.1 innings. In April, he posted a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings, punching out 16. Most impressively, perhaps, the fireballer didn’t walk a batter all month, and he leads the AL in reliever strikeouts. The 25-year-old has yet to surrender a homer in 17 games, and despite heavy use, his shoulders, elbows, and wrists are healthy.

If Zumaya can be classified a late-innings leader, Valverde is an end of the game dictator.

Through 21 appearances, his ERA is closer to 0.00 than 1.00 (0.48). Valverde blew his first save opportunity as a Tiger but hasn’t given up a run in 18 appearances since. “Papa Grande” holds the longest active scoreless streak among all pitchers—the opposition hasn’t crossed home plate in 48 days. Under his watch, the opposition bats an embarrassingly low .117.

Valverde defines automatic.

The free-agent signee is slowly developing into a premier closer, and he is discrediting those who questioned his two-year, $14 million contract this winter. To keep Valverde polished, manager Jim Leyland refuses to pitch his closer more than an inning per outing.

But he is the only reliever Leyland is coddling.

High-yielding yet scarily fragile Zumaya has already appeared in 17 games. He has pitched more than one inning 12 times and averages 23 pitches per outing.

After him, Bonine, Valverde, Coke, and Perry have also thrown in at least 17 games. Early rotation troubles plagued Detroit starters to begin the campaign, which caused the overworking of Tiger relievers, but they’ve been stretching deeper into games, lately allowing the back end to catch their breath.

ESPN Baseball Tonight analyst Tim Kurkjian wrote, “A really good bullpen can keep you in a pennant race for the long haul. And that just might be the case with the Tigers this year.”

A game behind Minnesota for first place, Detroit has only scored six more runs than its opponents this year. Most experts credit timely pitching, mainly from the bullpen, for their proximity to the mighty Twins.

Twenty-eight teams have received more production from their starters, but as Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello continue to trend upward, the secondary staff should keep fresh.

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