Monday, May 20, 2013
Miggy eyes another Triple Crown
By Buster Olney
ARLINGTON, Texas -- If there’s an opportunity before the postgame on-the-field interview on "Sunday Night Baseball," I’ll give the player a quick heads-up about what questions I will be asking, especially if it’s anything out of the ordinary. It’s not standard operating procedure to ask the guy who got the decisive hit for the winning team about a player on the losing team.
So before the green light came on, I mentioned to David Murphy that I intended to ask him about Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable "Sunday Night Baseball" performance, when the Tigers third baseman clubbed three home runs.
Murphy smiled. “Good,” he said, “because I was going to talk about him anyway.” He went on to discuss how easily everything seems to come for Cabrera at the plate.
Watching Cabrera in 2013 is like seeing Babe Ruth in 1927, Ted Williams in 1949 or Hank Aaron in 1959: a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter at his peak, doing stuff that few people -- or nobody -- have done before. As of Monday morning, Cabrera is hitting .387, which is more than 20 points higher than anybody else. He has 47 RBIs in 42 games and is on pace for 181. He has 11 homers and an OPS of 1.116 while compiling almost as many walks (21) as strikeouts (23).
Jim Leyland managed Barry Bonds and knows something about great hitters, and while Leyland generally runs away from comparisons, he did have some general observations before Sunday’s game about the best of the best hitters:
1. They see the ball quicker, and they hit it better. When the pitcher is releasing the ball -- or maybe even before -- Cabrera and Bonds and hitters of that ilk have had the ability to recognize the pitch and its trajectory.
2. They understand when pitchers are trying to get them out on pitches out of the strike zone and have the wherewithal to react. We saw this repeatedly from Cabrera on "Sunday Night Baseball," when twice he fell behind in the count no balls and two strikes and then calmly took pitches out of the zone until he worked himself back into the count before clubbing home runs.
3. There is a consistency to Cabrera’s swing that Leyland compared to the metronome-like movement of windshield washers on a car. He doesn’t jerk his swing through, with the effort reducing the efficiency of the swing, and the swing path always allows him to reach the ball with the barrel. You will see aggressive swings from other excellent hitters -- guys like Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, etc. -- that will finish with the batter being a little off-balance, or in Beltre’s case, even on one knee. But with Cabrera, Bonds, Williams, the swing almost always looks the same, powerful and consistent and with maximum torque at the moment of contact.
What draws the notice of other hitters are his adjustments during at-bats. During a recent game against the Astros, teammates noted, Cabrera eschewed his typical stride against a Houston starter all the way up until the count was 3-2 before going with his usual leg kick on the last pitch.
Cabrera will go without a stride if he’s convinced the opposing pitcher is going to throw an off-speed pitch on the edge of the strike zone -- and will go with his leg kick if he thinks there is going to be a fastball. Few hitters in baseball can make these kinds of radical physical adjustments from pitch to pitch while maintaining their swings, and nobody is better at it than Cabrera.
His preparation for each pitcher is simple. Cabrera explained over the weekend that he doesn’t really dig into the written scouting reports that are available to the hitters, because he feels like that information is dated -- based on what the pitcher has done in the past. Cabrera does watch a little video as it runs in the Tigers’ clubhouse, but what he really wants to know is what each pitcher is doing that day -- how hard he’s throwing, what pitch is working for him, and, in Cabrera’s words, “how’s he going to try to get me out.”
He carefully watched Derek Holland warm up Sunday, saw him throw his first six pitches to Omar Infante and Torii Hunter, and Holland had it going. A crisp fastball, a hard-veering slider that broke down toward the back foot of each right-handed hitter. Holland is a good pitcher having a good season, and Cabrera completely overmatched him, as he has many pitchers.
The first home run he hit went 441 feet to right-center field. Cabrera’s second home run was a vicious line drive through the middle -- and on this replay, you can see how Holland threw his hands up in the air to protect himself because he thought the ball was coming at him. Instead, it landed about 350 feet away from him, over the center-field fence.
On Cabrera’s last home run, he fell behind in the count no balls and two strikes -- as he had before the second home run -- and looked a bit overwhelmed by a Tanner Scheppers nasty inside fastball. Cabrera was able to draw his hands in, get to the fastball and mash it over the center-field fence, again. It was as though hitting had stopped being difficult for him, to hit that pitch in that spot as far as he did.
The Tigers had a rough series, playing horrendous defense in one bad inning Sunday, and Cabrera made a mistake among many Detroit gaffes.
But he lorded over the field Sunday night in a way that few players ever have or ever will.
David Murphy, theoretically the star of the game in the Rangers’ win, met with other reporters.
"Very nice to be on the winning side," Murphy said. "Big game, fun game, national TV. We got to witness the best hitter in the game hit three homers."
From Elias: Cabrera is the first player in history to have a three-home-run game the season after winning the Triple Crown. On Sunday he became the 23rd player in MLB history to go 4-for-4 with at least 3 homers, 5 RBIs and 4 runs.
There is talk, again, of a possible Triple Crown, writes John Lowe. He is this era’s Ted Williams, says Alex Avila.
• The Rangers rallied repeatedly to win this series, writes Jeff Wilson. As Leyland, Rick Porcello and other Tigers noted, the Rangers just kept piling up great at-bats in this four-game series, one after another, and the stress on the Detroit pitching staff was extraordinary.
Justin Verlander lasted 2 2/3 innings in his start in this series, Anibal Sanchez made it through only 2 2/3 innings and Doug Fister lasted just 4 2/3 innings. Leyland kept having to go back to his bullpen, which is why he had to watch young reliever Jose Ortega melt down through 39 pitches in the sixth inning Sunday: He had to get outs from somewhere, and he had all but run out of options.
Over the four-game series, the Detroit relievers accumulated 17 1/3 innings and 278 pitches. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a day off Monday before facing Cleveland, because their bullpen needs a break.
• Jurickson Profar was called up from Triple-A to replace the injured Ian Kinsler on the Rangers' roster, but there is no indication whatsoever that Profar is in the big leagues to stay. The Rangers hope Kinsler’s absence will be confined to the 15 days he’s on the DL, and Profar wasn’t even in the lineup Sunday night. He is expected to start Monday night.
On top of that, Rangers manager Ron Washington does not seem ready to embrace the kind of rotating infield system (in which Beltre, Kinsler and the others would be rested regularly) that would be required to get Profar the kind of playing time he would need to develop. Profar may well be headed back to Triple-A.
Around the league
• The Dodgers’ bullpen blew it again, sinking L.A. to eight games under .500. A team that was built by its front office -- it thought -- to contend for a World Series title is instead on a pace to win 70 games. Which means that all bets are off and no move, no change short of Clayton Kershaw being asked to pitch right-handed should be considered a surprise.
Robin Ventura said it best when he met with the White Sox players last weekend: If the losing continues, something’s going to change. Players will lose their jobs, or staff members will lose their jobs, but something will change. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly doesn’t have a contract after the end of this season despite asking for one.
The upcoming series against the Brewers could be pivotal in decision-making.
It was Brandon League who had a big meltdown Sunday. Steve Dilbeck wrote the other day about the Dodgers’ shaky defense.
• From ESPN Stats & Info: The Indians have won 17 of their past 21 games and have a plus-52 run differential during that stretch. Along the way they’ve faced eight former Cy Young Award winners and have won seven of those games.
How Justin Masterson beat Felix Hernandez Sunday, in a start in which he threw seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts.
A) Strikeout machine: recorded third career double-digit strikeout game, and strikeout rate of 40.7 percent on Sunday was his most since 2009.
B) He had a great slider: hitters were 0-for-8, and he struck out 7 of 11 batters with that pitch (second-most since 2009).
Masterson was "the man," writes Dennis Manoloff. The Indians ran the bases aggressively.
• Matt Moore is 8-0 but not overwhelmed by it all.
• Here's my ranking of the top 10 teams in baseball, which is separate from ESPN.com’s more official power rankings that will come out later Monday:
2. St. Louis
You keep waiting for the Nationals to take off on a long winning streak.
Dings and dents
1. Eric O’Flaherty is resigned to the idea that he’s headed for season-ending surgery, writes Carroll Rogers.
2. Bryce Harper was out of the lineup again Sunday as he continues to get treatment after running into the wall in L.A. last week. Harper could be back in the lineup Monday.
3. A couple of Phillies are set for MRIs.
4. Andrew McCutchen is dealing with some soreness.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Johnny Cueto is considering changes to his delivery, writes John Fay.
2. Ned Yost is likely to shift Kelvin Herrera out of an eighth-inning role.
3. The Cardinals called on a lefty.
4. Mike Rizzo hasn’t started talks about an extension with the Nationals, writes Adam Kilgore. From his story:
Earlier this season, the Washington Nationals exercised their option to extend General Manager Mike Rizzo’s contract through the 2014 season, a move widely interpreted as a reward for Rizzo’s stewardship of a franchise that ascended from losing 297 games in three seasons to a 2012 division title.
But exercising the option may have created a potential fissure in the relationship between ownership and its general manager. Rather than discuss a new deal that would keep Rizzo in Washington long term at a price commensurate with his experience as a GM, Nationals ownership instead locked Rizzo into one more year on its terms.
5. Ryan Flaherty was sent to the minors to play every day.
6. A struggling Jacoby Ellsbury got a day of rest.
1. The Braves used some small ball to come back.
2. The Astros lost their series finale in Pittsburgh, Brian Smith writes; they are 12-32, same as Miami.
3. There were a lot of questions about Aroldis Chapman after his loss Sunday.
4. Kyle Lohse had a rough fourth inning.
5. The Angels won, and Josh Hamilton feels like he’s getting close to normal again.
6. Juan Nicasio was "the man" for the Rockies.
7. Everth Cabrera ran wild Sunday, with three more stolen bases.
8. That’s 25 wins in the past 38 games for the Pirates, after Jeff Locke shut down the Astros, writes Bill Brink.
9. John Lackey led the way, and the Red Sox completed a sweep.
• I wrote here Sunday about how Ricky Nolasco could be one of the best guys in the summer starting pitching market, and he was outstanding Sunday, Clark Spencer writes.
• Dan Haren got pounded again.
• Daniel Murphy did something cool for a teammate.
• Another rookie stepped up for the Cardinals. I had a conversation with St. Louis GM John Mozeliak this year about the success of the farm system, and he mentioned all of the player-development staff -- managers and coaches -- and the work they had done to prepare players. When the Cardinals’ young players are called up, he said, they are ready. And it shows.
• One mistake cost Travis Wood.
• One talent evaluator who recent wrote up the San Francisco Giants had this assessment of their rotation: Right now, Matt Cain is throwing more like a No. 3 starter on a good team, and Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong are No. 4-5 type starters.
The Giants lost again Sunday, when Vogelsong became the latest San Francisco starter to get knocked around, and as of Monday morning, the Giants rank 23rd among 30 teams in starters’ ERA.
• The only good thing about the trip for the Giants is that it's over. Henry Schulman writes about the San Francisco rotation.
• Walt Weiss says he wasn’t worried about his team’s slump.
• Gerardo Parra keeps wowing folks with his arm.
• Jake Odorizzi is banking on his experience to help him Monday, writes Marc Topkin, as he steps into the rotation for David Price.
• The Blue Jays’ struggling rotation got a break, writes Richard Griffin.
• Reid Brignac is dealing with a roller coaster of emotions.
• CC Sabathia is glad he didn’t have to waste a start, writes Dan Martin.
• The Orioles’ losing streak has reached five games, writes Eduardo Encina.
• The bad pitching added up for the Twins, writes La Velle Neal.
• Joe Mauer has been sacrificing power, writes Jim Souhan.
• The Royals have had a rough time lately, Bob Dutton writes.
• There’s plenty of room for improvement for the White Sox offense, writes Mark Gonzales.
• Paul Konerko’s power stroke has abandoned him, writes Daryl van Schouwen.
• Yoenis Cespedes gave Oakland a sweep.
• Eric Wedge had some pointers for his catcher.
• Josh Donaldson launched himself into the stands, John Hickey writes.
• Our guy Mark Mulder can really golf.
• The Astros made a good move in the hiring of Reid Ryan, writes Jerome Solomon.
• Tim Corbin has boosted the expectations for Vanderbilt baseball, writes David Climer.
And today will be better than yesterday.