The Best 60-Game Stretch of Miguel Cabrera’s Career (Part 1)
As the Detroit Tigers embark upon 2020’s unique 60-game season, it’s hard not to imagine what a best-case scenario for Miguel Cabrera could look like. It’s also fun to reminisce about what his best 60-game stretch looked like.
Thanks to Fangraphs’ new 60-game span leaderboards tool, we can see what the best 60-game stretch of Miguel Cabrera’s career has been so far. Whether using WAR, OPS, wOBA, or wRC+ as the basis for ranking them, the stretch of games between April 24 through June 28 in 2013 outshines them all. It began a few days after he turned 30. It was Cabrera’s 11th season as a big leaguer and his sixth season in Detroit.
On April 24, as the Tigers prepared to host the Royals, they began the day with a 9-9 record, good for third place in the AL Central. They trailed the first place Royals by a game and a half. Cabrera came in on a seven-game hitting streak and added to that with a single in the first. The Tigers were down 4-1 when he doubled in the third. Two batters later, he scored on a Victor Martinez double. In the fourth, Miggy contributed a sacrifice fly to a four-run rally that gave the Tigers a lead. He walked in the fifth. The Tigers won 7-5.
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead on April 25 when Cabrera drove in Austin Jackson with a first-inning single on the first pitch he saw from James Shields. It was a screamer past third baseman Mike Moustakas, but the Royals had no problems handling Miggy the rest of the day, though. With runners on the corners and two outs in a 1-1 tie, he popped out to second for the third out. He lined into an inning-ending double play in the fifth, right after the Tigers had taken a 3-2 lead. A five-run tenth inning explosion gave the Royals an 8-3 win.
The Braves then came in for a weekend interleague series. At 15-6, the Braves led the NL East and had the best record in the NL. In the opener on April 26, Cabrera walked and scored in the Tigers’ four-run third inning. They crushed the Braves with a six-run fourth that included an RBI single from Miggy, who scored on a Martinez double. Cabrera added a double in the fifth. The Tigers’ 10-0 win is most remembered for the record-breaking performance of pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who struck out 17 to set a new franchise high.
The 19th annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game took place on April 27. The Tigers sported Detroit Stars uniforms, and the Braves donned the uniforms of the Atlanta Black Crackers. It was standing room only at Comerica Park on an excellent Saturday afternoon for baseball. The game was televised nationally by FOX. Everybody rooting for the Tigers saw a good show. Cabrera tied the game 3-3 in the third with a single up the middle that scored Jackson. An eighth inning single that drove Omar Infante in gave the Tigers an insurance run. The Tigers beat the Braves 7-4.
The Tigers looked to sweep the Braves on April 28 on a rainy night in Detroit. It was ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” game. Tied 3-3 in the sixth, Cabrera led off with a ground-rule double to left-center. After advancing to third on Prince Fielder’s groundout, V-Mart’s double drove Miggy in with the go-ahead run. In the seventh, Cabrera launched a three-run bomb, on a 3-0 pitch, to right field. It was his third homer of the season. The Tigers won 8-3. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was probably relieved to be done with Cabrera for the year. About Miggy’s homer, he said,
"“This is how good that son of a gun is. On a 3-0 count, he went opposite field, went bam, and he hit it like a left-handed pull hitter. How many times do you see a 3-0 pitch hit that way?”"
Tigers manager Jim Leyland called Cabrera the best opposite-field power hitter that he’d ever seen. Somewhat modestly, Cabrera commented,
"“You’ve got to make sure that Skip gives you the sign to swing…That doesn’t mean you’re going to swing 3-0. You’ve got to make sure you get a good pitch to hit.”"
The always pesky Twins rolled into town next. They snapped Cabrera’s hitting streak at 12 games on April 29, although future Tiger Mike Pelfrey walked him twice. After the second walk, Miggy scored on the Fielder three-run homer that gave the Tigers a 4-3 win. Earlier in the day, Cabrera made an appearance at a promotional event in Livonia to launch Miggy’s Salsa, which would help raise funds for children and community-based baseball programs in the Detroit area and in his homeland of Venezuela.
Miggy struck fast and struck hard on April 30. His two-run homer (#4) to right in the first inning made it loud and clear to the Twins that he wouldn’t be held hitless for a second day in a row. Safe on a fielder’s choice in the fifth, he scored on Fielder’s home run that followed. It was all part of a 6-1 Tigers win that even featured a nice play on a diving stop at third base by Cabrera. Twins starter Vance Worley seemed stunned, yet amazed by what Miggy did in the first inning. He said,
"“I made the exact pitch that I wanted to Cabrera. I even went back and watched the video. That pitch is a popup, and he drove it out of the park the other way. There’s nothing you can do about that.”"
The Twins snapped the Tigers’ five-game winning streak on May 1. Miggy’s RBI double to the left field wall on a breaking ball in the sixth was one of the Tigers’ few highlights in the 6-2 loss. He was hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count in the first and singled to lead off the ninth. Scott Diamond, the Twins’ starter that day, had an interesting observation about Cabrera. He stated,
"“Even if you’re ahead of him 0-2, it still feels like it’s the first pitch of the at-bat.”"
The Tigers began a six-game road trip in Houston on May 2. Cabrera’s RBI single in the third drove in Jackson to tie the game at 2-2. It was Miggy’s 1000th hit in a Detroit uniform. With the Tigers down 3-2 in the fifth, he singled again but went no further. The Tigers re-tied the game in the eighth, and it went on into extra innings. Detroit threatened in the twelfth with a Jackson single and a four-pitch walk to the Cabrera, but couldn’t score. The Tigers finally broke it open in the fourteenth with a four-run inning. Miggy received an intentional walk and scored in the rally. The Tigers beat the Astros 7-3.
On May 3, Cabrera doubled to lead off the fourth. After tagging up and taking third on Fielder’s fly out to right, he scored on a Martinez single. That increased a Tigers lead to 2-0. They needed a come-from-behind home run from Alex Avila in the eighth in order to pull out a 4-3 win over the Astros.
The Tigers came out hot against the Astros on May 4. After Jackson and Torii Hunter both singled in the first, Cabrera laced the first pitch he saw for an RBI single to right. The Tigers put up four runs in the inning. Miggy came up again in the second, and once again, he was first-pitch swinging. This time, he walloped a two-run homer to left (#5). He drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth. Miggy spanked another homer to left (#6) to lead off the sixth. His second victim was Jose Cisnero, who became a Tiger teammate in 2019. Cabrera added another RBI single off Cisnero in the seventh. That made the score 11-0.
Ramon Santiago took over for Cabrera when the Tigers took the field in the bottom of the seventh. Despite not playing a full game, it was a pretty busy day for Miggy. For the fifth time in his career, he drove in six runs in a game. He led the charge but wasn’t the only Tiger hammering away at Astros pitching. When the smoke from the Detroit attack finally cleared, it was a 17-2 massacre.
The Astros managed to keep Miggy at bay on May 5, starting with a nice running and leaping catch at the wall by center fielder Robbie Grossman on a Cabrera fly ball in the first inning. It likely would’ve been at least a double. The Astros limited to him just a walk and a single, with no runs scored or batted in. The Tigers still managed to win 9-0. Miggy still made it onto the highlight reel by stealing a single away from “G-Money” Gerald Laird’s younger brother Brandon with an excellent play in the fifth.
From Houston, the Tigers traveled on to Washington, D.C. After a rainout on May 7, the two-game series got started on May 8. Cabrera’s RBI single in the third would be the extent of the team’s scoring against the Nationals. The Nats’ Jordan Zimmerman, who would eventually disappoint Tigers fans in different ways years later, handled the Tigers pretty easily that day, striking out seven while scattering seven hits and two walks in his seven innings of work.
Cabrera singled in the first and in the ninth on May 9, bookending a 5-4 loss to the Nationals. Dan Haren, who got the win for Washington that day, said,
"“It’s always fun playing a team of that caliber. You get fired up to see guys like Cabrera and Fielder, and everyone in the clubhouse was excited for it.”"
The Tigers returned home to host the Indians for a weekend series beginning May 10. The Tigers, at 19-13, led the Royals by a game in the AL, while the third-place Indians remained in striking distance, at just one game back. After going hitless in his first two at-bats against Corey Kluber, Cabrera crushed the first pitch he saw from Kluber in the fourth, an 89 mph cutter. It was a three-run homer (#7) that landed just below Hank Greenberg’s number five on the wall in left-center. That boosted a Tigers lead to 7-4. Miggy added a sixth-inning double but didn’t score. The Tigers won 10-4.
The Indians held Cabrera in check on May 11, yielding only a fourth-inning single. They left the ballpark feeling pretty good about themselves after getting Miggy out in a tight spot to end the ballgame. The Tigers trailed 7-6, but had runners on first and second. Cabrera worked the count full against Indians closer Chris Perez but grounded to third base for the third out. Perez talked about the fastball that he got Miggy out with. He said,
"“He chopped it. I wanted him to put something in play, but down. Luckily, he did.”"
Cabrera singled twice and walked on May 12, but wasn’t involved in the scoring. The Mother’s Day crowd at Comerica Park had hoped to see Miggy hit a walk-off homer when he came to the plate with two outs in the ninth, but he flew out to right instead. The Indians downed the Tigers 4-3 in 10 innings to take the series. That allowed Cleveland to tie Detroit for the AL Central lead.
The Astros came into town after that. They were hoping to avenge the beatings they’d recently suffered at the hands of Miggy & Co. They got a measure of revenge by holding Cabrera hitless on May 13, but the Tigers won 7-2 anyway. Houston pitchers Bud Norris and Paul Clemens combined to snap his 11-game hitting streak.
Nobody could hold Cabrera down for long in those days, however. On May 14, after walking earlier, he led off the sixth with a double. Two batters later, Martinez drove him in. That was the first of two runs the Tigers scored in the inning to increase their lead to 5-2. They added another run on a long solo home run, an absolute no-doubter, from Cabrera in the seventh. It was his eighth. The Tigers beat the Astros 6-2.
Houston finally got a win over Detroit on May 15. Cabrera was held to a single, although he almost had much more than that. With the Tigers trailing 7-5 and down to their final out, he hit a ball to deep right-center. The wind was blowing out, and Astros center fielder Brandon Barnes, who had been on the bench until pinch-running in the top of the inning, caught the ball with his back against the wall. Barnes said,
"“I knew if he hit it out there, I’d have to get a good bead on it, just try to get under it, and not stop until the catch was made.”"
The Tigers returned to Texas to take on the Rangers on May 16. Miggy doubled off Yu Darvish in the third but wasn’t involved in the scoring, even though the Tigers scored three runs that inning. It was Darvish’s only rough inning out of eight pitched. The Tigers lost 10-4.
Cabrera singled in the first and again in the third on May 17. He was stranded each time. His fifth inning double off the left-field wall drove in Andy Dirks, and then Alex Avila drove Miggy in later in the inning. The Tigers needed every bit of that, as they ended up winning a tight 2-1 game.
The Rangers got back at the Tigers on May 18 with a 7-2 win. Cabrera singled in the first, but that was it.
Back in front of ESPN’s Sunday night cameras again on May 19, Miggy had a much better night at the plate. His first-inning single on an 0-2 pitch was just a warmup. In the third, he hit Derek Holland’s first pitch deep to right-center for a home run (#9). In the fifth, he worked Holland for a full count and then lined a pitch off the top of the center-field wall for another homer (#10). With his second shot, he passed the legendary Tigers Hall Of Famer Hank Greenberg on the all-time home run list.
That second homer also made it a 4-1 Detroit lead, but Texas took the lead in the bottom of fifth. In the sixth, Cabrera came up with Tigers on second and third and two outs. The Rangers were up 5-4. Cabrera was intentionally walked after reliever Jason Frasor fell behind in the count. Fielder then cleared the bases with a double to put the Tigers on top, 7-5. Miggy said,
"“When they walked me, I said ‘They’re in trouble. That’s a bad move.'”"
The Tigers’ bullpen lost the newfound lead in the bottom of the sixth and made the Rangers’ lead worse in the seventh. Cabrera got one more at-bat in the eighth. The Tigers were down 11-7, and then they were down 11-8. Miggy’s third homer of the night (#11) wasn’t enough to get the Tigers back in it. Even though he drove in a total of five runs, the 11-8 score held up as the final.
With the three home runs (at a combined estimated distance of 1,250 feet), Cabrera was only one homer away from being tied for the AL lead (four guys were already tied for the lead). Miggy was already leading the AL in batting average (.387) and RBI (47). John Lowe wrote a column in the Detroit Free Press to explore the possibility that Cabrera was putting together a second consecutive Triple Crown season.
By this point in the month, the Tigers had dropped into second place in the AL Central. The Indians led by a game and a half when the traveling Detroit team made its way into Cleveland for a three-game series beginning May 21. After going hitless in his first two at-bats against Corey Kluber, Cabrera smacked a two-run home run (#12) to dead center in the sixth. That broke a 1-1 tie. After the Tigers had increased their lead, he drew an intentional walk in the ninth. The Tigers beat the Indians 5-1.
The homer was Miggy’s 195th as a Tiger, which tied him with Kirk Gibson for 10th place on the franchise’s all-time list. Cabrera suggested that the wind helped his home run, but Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press thought otherwise. He wrote,
"“He says that often, whether the wind is strong or not. The fact is he hit a slider that was down and away in the strike zone. He took a pitch that for many right-handers would be a groundout and instead flipped the game.”"
Cabrera continued to roll on May 22. His first inning double, a hard-hit shot to the warning track in left, drove in Andy Dirks to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. The Tigers added another run in the inning, but the Indians had tied the game 2-2 by the time Miggy came back to the plate in the third. He walked and scored during a four-run Tigers rally. The Indians wouldn’t go away easily. The Tigers held a 9-7 lead in the eighth when Cabrera hit a two-run home run (#13) that bounced off center fielder Michael Bourn’s glove and over the fence.
The Tigers returned home for another series against the Twins. Prior to the game, manager Jim Leyland made an appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption”. Miguel Cabrera’s hot streak was a topic in baseball. Asked about his superstar slugger, Leyland said,
"“I really can’t explain it, but he’s different…He’s very smart. A lot of people just think he’s a big strong guy that muscles the ball out of the ballpark. He’s totally the opposite of that. He has a smooth, easy swing, with a lot of elasticity. What you’re seeing right now is very, very special.”"
In the series opener on May 23, Cabrera slammed a two-run homer to left (#14) off Scott Diamond to give the Tigers an early lead. The Twins claimed the lead with a four-run third inning rally. Detroit got a run back in the fifth when Miggy’s bases-loaded infield single drove in Avisiail Garcia, making the score 5-3, Twins. Minnesota made it 6-3 in the seventh. The Tigers rallied for three runs to tie it up in the bottom of the seventh. Cabrera walked and scored during that spurt. The run was the 1,000th of his career. The Twins took no chances in the eighth with the game still tied. Miggy was intentionally walked. The Tigers went on to win 7-6.
Cabrera had homered in four straight games for the first time since he was a Florida Marlin in 2004. With 14 homers and 55 RBI through 45 games, he was likely to create excitement every time he stepped to the plate. In the Detroit Free Press, John Lowe marveled at what Miggy was doing. He wrote,
"“If you ever wondered what it was like to see Hack Wilson drive in those record 191 runs for the 1930 Cubs, Miguel Cabrera is providing a reenactment…Cabrera is on pace for 198 RBI – seven more than Wilson in 1930 when he set the single-season RBI record that hasn’t received a serious assault in the past 75 years…Whether Cabrera can maintain the Wilson-esque pace is a question for the long, hot summer ahead. But the comparison with Wilson gives us an idea what Cabrera has been doing this season.”"
The Twins managed to keep Miggy in the ballpark on May 24, but they still couldn’t stop his productivity. He contributed a two-run single down the left-field line to a third-inning Tigers rally. With Anibal Sanchez striking out 12 in a complete-game performance (that could’ve been a no-hitter if not for a ninth-inning Joe Mauer single), the Tigers enjoyed a dominant 6-0 victory. and reclaimed first place in the AL Central. Other than two days in July, the lead would be theirs for the rest of the season.
Minnesota prevailed 3-2 on May 25 to snap Detroit’s four-game winning streak. Cabrera was held to a first-inning single.
After walking and scoring in the fourth inning on May 26, Cabrera singled in the sixth, extending his newest hitting streak to 12 games. He also scored in the inning. The Tigers won 6-1. Miguel Cabrera was halfway through what would turn out to be the best 60-game stretch of his career.
(To be continued.)