Miguel Cabrera is one of baseball's best
September, 5, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMiguel Cabrera has matured into one of baseball's fiercest hitters. And he's only 28.DETROIT -- Ozzie Guillen can remember the first time he saw Miguel Cabrera, as a skinny teenager, already so good at a young age that he was asked to play in a celebrity softball game in his native Venezuela. Cabrera was a shortstop in a country with a tradition of great shortstops, and so as Guillen remembers it, he let Cabrera play shortstop, Guillen played center field and Omar Vizquel played left.
It wasn't long after that Cabrera signed with the Florida Marlins, the team for which Guillen worked, and there was some disagreement in a staff meeting about the future of another shortstop, Alex Gonzalez. Some lobbied for the idea of pushing aside Gonzalez and installing Cabrera, and Guillen was astonished by what he heard.
"Cabrera's not going to be a shortstop," he insisted, having seen just how tall his fellow Venezuelan was. And after others in the room saw Cabrera, they understood what Guillen was talking about: Cabrera was going to turn into a very big man.
Cabrera was summoned to the big leagues in 2003, and Guillen was asked if he thought Cabrera could handle an immediate conversion to the outfield, and Guillen indicated yes, Cabrera would be comfortable with whatever was asked of him.
This is how a career with a Hall of Fame trajectory started: Cabrera playing in the World Series at age 20, mashing an opposite field home run off Roger Clemens after he had been knocked down, frolicking with the other Marlins after Josh Beckett finished off the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. Before last night's game, Cabrera walked across the first base foul line to Juan Pierre, and the two old friends greeted each other with a long-ago-choreographed handshake, a series of hand slaps and elbow jabs -- a legacy leftover from the 2003 Florida Marlins, like a Skull and Bones password.
Cabrera is 28 years old now, and a lot bigger than he was when Guillen first saw him. His baseball journey might be half over now, and he's had some detours along the way. But there has been one truth about Cabrera that has never been shaken: The man can hit like few before him. Saturday, Guillen marveled at how Cabrera faced White Sox closer Sergio Santos and anticipated a breaking ball -- while knowing that if he needed to he could take a fastball to the opposite field. When you look at all the great hitters in recent history, Guillen said, they have had the ability to take the ball the other way or through the middle of the field, and it's that ability that allows Cabrera to anticipate pitches the way he does.
Cabrera has been elevating the ball better of late, Jim Leyland noted before Sunday's game, and in the middle of the Tigers' wipeout of the White Sox -- the coup de grace for Chicago -- Cabrera drove a ball to the middle of the field -- straight up, and straight out for his 26th homer of the season, the 273rd homer of his career. He has 1,564 career hits and 971 RBIs and he's hitting .329 -- the sixth year in his career in which he's hit better than .300.
"He's got to take care of himself," said Guillen, "but he's a great hitter."
Nobody should go to sleep on the Tigers in the postseason, because this is a team locked in at the plate: Detroit went 24-for-48 Sunday night, with everyone from Cabrera to Victor Martinez to Alex Avila driving the ball the other way.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Thirteen of the Tigers' 24 hits came on outside pitches. The 13 hits on outside pitches match the most by any team in a game this season. The last team to do it was the White Sox, who did it in a 14-inning win over the Indians Aug. 16. The Tigers were 13-for-22 in at-bats ending in outside pitches, including Andy Dirks' home run. For the season, the Tigers are hitting .256 in at-bats ending in outside pitches, fourth highest in baseball (behind the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies).
Max Scherzer threw seven shutout innings, the 18th time in his 29 starts he has allowed two earned runs or less. Also from ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:
A) Scherzer's fastball averaged 94.5 mph Sunday, his highest average velocity on his fastball since June 20, 2010.
B) Perhaps because of the Tigers' large lead, Scherzer's threw a first-pitch strike to 20 of 26 hitters (76.9 percent), his third-highest percentage of the season. With an 8-0 lead after the fourth inning, Scherzer threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of the 13 hitters he faced in the fifth inning and later.
C) Given the large lead, Scherzer came after the White Sox hitters in the strike zone. In the first three innings, 43.5 percent of Scherzer's pitches were in the strike zone, according to the Pitchf/x; in his final four innings, 62.7 percent of his pitches were in the strike zone.
D) Scherzer threw 17 sliders with two strikes, five more than in any of his starts in the last three seasons. He got five outs with his slider with two strikes, matching his most in the last three seasons.
The Tigers' finished off the White Sox, writes Michael Rosenberg. It was a drubbing, as Lynn Henning writes. Brennan Boesch will be lost for the season, because of thumb surgery.
• Chipper Jones says the Braves can take the Phillies in the playoffs, as Jeff Schultz writes.
From the story:
"We're what -- 10 games back in the loss column?" [Jones] said before the Philly lost at Florida (which actually left the team only nine losses apart). "I think it's safe to say the likelihood of them losing 10 games between now and then is slim. So we've resigned ourselves to the fact that we just want to go in and win the series. We want to play well against them. We want to sweep them. The more pressure we put on them, the better."
Then this: "The only team that can really put any pressure on them and beat them somewhat is us. And I hope we get them head-to-head in the postseason. If we get them head-to-head, we like our chances. We've beaten their big three [starting pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels]. I'm not sure if any other team in baseball has beaten their big three. They're a great ballclub, don't get me wrong. But we're not scared of them. It's going to be a knock down, drag out [fight]."
• I'd love to see a copy of the report that Joe West files about how he used instant replay in Sunday's game. If he maintains what he said Sunday -- that he used replay at the request of Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel -- he will directly counter what Manuel said. If Manuel didn't make the request, West used replay improperly.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Cardinals would like to keep Rafael Furcal.
2. The Yankees will keep six starters, for now, writes Roger Rubin.
3. The Giants need to have a discussion about Aubrey Huff, writes Tim Kawakami.
1. A) CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter rolled.
B) Again from ESPN Stats & Information, how Sabathia won: Sabathia threw eight more sliders Sunday than he had in any start over the last three seasons. Forty-seven of his 111 pitches (42.3 percent) were sliders, also his highest percentage in the last three years. Blue Jays hitters were 1-for-14 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with a Sabathia slider.
By consequence of throwing his slider so much, Sabathia threw his fastball less than 50 percent of the time for only the second start this season. Even still, Blue Jays hitters managed five hits against the pitch. It's the seventh straight start Sabathia has allowed at least five hits against his fastball; in his first 23 starts, he allowed five or more hits against his fastball seven times.
C) Right-handed hitters hit .381 against Sabathia in August; Sunday, Sabathia held right-handers to a .222 average (4-for-18), including 0-for-11 in at-bats ending in off-speed pitches. Sunday was Sabathia's first start since the beginning of August in which over half of his pitches to right-handers were off-speed.