If you watched yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays, you saw Miguel Cabrera grimace after a swing late in the game and you probably grimaced when you saw it. Word today is that his lower back is bothering him, but he doesn’t plan on missing any games. This is bad any way you look at it.
It’s possible that Cabrera’s problem is a minor muscular thing. That happens. And it’s possible that he could be feeling fine tomorrow even if he’s aching today. But, I’d imagine that if it were really that trivial we wouldn’t be hearing about it at all – and certainly not the possibility of him being forced to miss time. If he insists on playing, he will, but while we tend to applaud “toughness” in an athlete we probably shouldn’t. His swing may not be the same if he’s in pain (or his defense) and he might run the risk of injuring himself further.
No team anywhere could lose a Miguel Cabrera (or suffer through a couple of weeks with a “replacement level” version of Miguel Cabrera if he’s playing hurt) without a noticeable impact on the offense. The Tigers are probably no worse than most when it comes to backups – Don Kelly is a replacement level bat but should be an above average glove. If you don’t want to see Don Kelly hit against lefties (and you really shouldn’t want to see Don Kelly hit against lefties) there’s Ramon Santiago. Obviously that’s a massive, massive dropoff from Cabrera production – but that’s the nature of the beast – Cabrera has a .368 average and is on pace for 50 HR and 160 RBI, one of two front-runners for the AL MVP (with Chris Davis). If, on the other hand, Cabrera was able to DH but not play in the field a Kelly/Santiago tandem might very well outhit Victor Martinez.
If I were Jim Leyland, I would be treading very carefully here. The Tigers can’t afford to be without Cabrera – which may be why they need to rest him a couple of days. Back problems are the bane of big guys over 30, and if this is never something that Cabrera has experienced before I can only say “welcome to 30″. If it becomes a nagging, recurring thing the Tigers will go from likely playoff team to dark horse. Spend tonight in the hot tub, Miggy, and we’ll hope you’re feeling like your old self again in time for Friday’s game against Cleveland.