The Detroit Tigers had a very memorable and exciting season in 2013, thanks in part to Miguel Cabrera, who turned in the best 60-game stretch of his career that year.
(Per Fangraphs’ new 60-game span leaderboards tool, Miguel Cabrera’s best 60-game stretch, based on WAR, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+, spanned April 24 through June 28, 2013. Click here for part one of the story.)
When Miguel Cabrera arrived at Comerica Park on Memorial Day in 2013, he couldn’t have known that he was halfway through what would turn out to be the best 60-game stretch of his career, but he had to know that he was doing very well. In his last 30 games, dating back to April 24, he was slashing .403/.478/.790 with 12 HR and 39 RBI. He drew 17 walks (four intentional) and only struck out 15 times. Teammates marveled at what they were able to see on a daily basis. Torii Hunter, who filled the two-hole in the Tigers’ lineup, remarked,
"“When he’s up and I’m on base, it’s like HD. When I’m on the bench, I’m watching no matter if I struck out or grounded out or popped up. I’m still watching him. I’ve been playing 17 years, and I’m learning from him…You can’t pitch to him. He can hit the inside pitch. He can hit the outside pitch. He can hit the up and in. He can go down the line to right field or down the line to left field. He can go all over the field. And he’s smart. He’s a smart hitter. He’s going to battle at the plate.”"
The Tigers drew a packed house for their Memorial Day afternoon matchup with a tough Pirates team on May 27. Detroit led the AL Central with a 28-20 record. Pittsburgh actually had a better record (31-19), but trailed the Cardinals by a game and a half in the NL Central. Each team sent its ace, Justin Verlander for the Tigers and Francisco Liriano for the Pirates, to the mound to begin a four-game series that would be split between the two cities.
After going 0-for-3 against Liriano with two strikeouts, Cabrera walked to lead off the seventh. He came around to score as the Tigers added a couple runs to boost a lead to 6-3. He struck out again in the eighth. It was the first time all season that any team was able to rack up three Ks against the Tigers’ big man. Pittsburgh also snapped another of Miggy’s double-digit hitting streaks at 12 games. It wasn’t enough to beat the Tigers, though, as the Pirates lost 6-5.
The Pirates were able to limit Cabrera to only a first-inning single on May 28. Nobody on either team did much hitting that evening. The Bucs beat the Bengals 1-0 on an eleventh inning home run from Neil Walker. Pirates closer Jason Grilli, the former Tiger, struck out the side, including Miggy, in the bottom of the eleventh.
The series between the interleague “rivals” moved on to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park on May 29. Cabrera broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer (#15) to right in the fifth. The Pirates took a 5-3 lead with a four-run seventh-inning rally. That held up as the final when Grilli got Cabrera to fly out to deep right to end the game with a runner on first. It was likely a nervous at-bat for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who said,
"“(Cabrera) is as good as we have in the industry…He is a game changer. He is a guy you talk about if there are two outs late in a game and he is at the plate. ‘Do we just walk him?’ And you don’t have those conversations very often.”"
Miggy looked like he was ready to roll in the series finale on May 30. He drilled a ground-rule double into the right-field corner in the first inning. It was the 400th double of his career. He followed that up with the 401st double of his career in the fourth, this time to center. There wasn’t anybody on base either time, however, and the Tigers and Pirates found themselves locked in another game that stayed scoreless into the late innings.
Twice, Cabrera kept Pirates off the bases with solid defensive plays. In the fifth, he ranged to his right, fielded the ball at the line, and made a strong throw to rob former Tiger teammate Brandon Inge of a hit. In the eighth, he stole what would’ve been an RBI single from Andrew McCutcheon with a diving play and a throw that just beat “Cutch” to end the inning. In turn, the Pirates kept Cabrera off the bases after his pair of doubles. He struck out to lead off the 10th in a 0-0 game. Pittsburgh won it 1-0 in 11 innings.
Despite dropping three of four to the Pirates, the Tigers held on to their lead in the AL Central. They moved on to Baltimore to face the Orioles, who were also playing well. They actually had a better winning percentage (.556) than the Tigers (.558), but the O’s were a third-place team in a tough AL East.
Cabrera got the Tigers off to an early lead on May 31 with a two-run homer (#16) to left in the first inning. He singled in the fifth and walked in the seventh, but the Orioles went on to win 7-5, thanks to a four-run ninth-inning rally.
Through the end of May, Miggy was leading the AL in batting average (.372) and RBI (61). He trailed only the Orioles’ Chris Davis (19-16) in the home run race. Cabrera was named AL Player of the Month. MLB Network asked Verlander how he’d pitch to his teammate. He mused,
"“I guess I’d maybe start him with a fastball. I mean, I’ve seen him hit everything, so it’s just basically kind of flip a coin and hope he’s not looking for it. He can hit a fastball at his neck, and he can hit a slider down and away, both for homers oppo. It doesn’t matter. Just throw it and pray.”"
It was Verlander who got the start for the Tigers against the Orioles as the calendar page was flipped. He got plenty of run support on June 1. The Tigers began the bottom of the fourth with three consecutive home runs from Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila.
The rally continued on and Cabrera found himself coming to the plate with the bases loaded. After working the count full, he smashed a grand slam to left (#17), which gave the Tigers a 9-1 lead. It was the fourth grand slam of his career and third as a Tiger. (Surprisingly, he wouldn’t hit another until June 2019.) The blast was also Miggy’s 200th home run in a Detroit uniform, which tied him with Bill Freehan for ninth place on the franchise’s all-time list. Tigers fans who invaded Camden Yards chanted “MVP! MVP!” From there, the Tigers cruised to a 10-3 win. Cabrera’s teammates also appreciated the blast. Alex Avila commented,
"“He still amazes us every day, for sure. On a daily basis. He’s definitely the best hitter I think any of us will ever play with or see. When he does something that’s spectacular, it’s spectacular for us.”"
The Orioles managed to escape any further damage at Cabrera’s hands on June 2. Starter Kevin Gausman, making only his third big league start, got him to ground into two double plays and also struck him out. It was a rare day of frustration for the Tigers’ best hitter. After the strikeout, he admitted that he didn’t grind out that at-bat against the Baltimore rookie and said it was the first time all season that his concentration wasn’t where it should be. Miggy snapped out of it by greeting O’s closer Jim Johnson with a single up the middle to lead off the ninth. He advanced no further, though, and the Tigers lost 4-2.
The Tigers returned home to face another tough AL East team, the Rays. Like Baltimore before them, Tampa Bay began a series with a better winning percentage than Detroit (.554 to .545), despite trailing in its own division. If there was one member of the Rays who was looking forward to seeing Cabrera in person, it was his counterpart at third base, Evan Longoria. Longoria said,
"“Whenever we play them, I try to talk to him and get his thoughts and see what he’s thinking up there. But sometimes it’s hard to understand a genius mind and how he thinks…He’s an incredible, incredible hitter. He has the ability to cover every pitch, which nobody in this game can do except for him, and he has that ability to never go cold. Every time I see him in the box, I think he’s going to hit the ball 500 feet.”"
In the series opener on June 4, Cabrera contributed two singles, a walk, and a run to the Tigers’ 10-1 win. Alex Cobb, who would get the start for the Rays in the series’ second game, had already been thinking about what he would do when he got his shot at facing Cabrera. Cobb stated,
"“If you can try to limit the amount of runners on when you have to face him and pitch him carefully, I think that’s the formula for success on him.”"
Cobb knew what he was talking about. Twice on June 5, he faced Cabrera with nobody on base and retired him both times. On a two-strike count in the first inning, Cabrera lined out to short. In the fourth, Miggy was first-pitch swinging and grounded out to short. In the sixth inning of a scoreless game, Cobb faced Cabrera with a runner on second and two outs. He walked the Tigers’ slugger intentionally and then struck out Prince Fielder to end the inning. When Cabrera came up in the eighth, Cobb was still in there, and the game was still scoreless. Again, there was a runner on second with two outs. Again, Cobb intentionally walked Miggy. After that, Rays manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen. Reliever Joel Peralta struck out Fielder to end the inning. The Rays rallied for three in the ninth to beat the Tigers 3-0.
Cabrera bounced back on June 6 in the Tigers’ 5-3 win. He notched three singles, including one that drove in a run in the fifth. His seventh-inning was eventful. He ricocheted a ball off Rays pitcher Jake McGee’s shin. The lefty fielded the ball, but made an off-balance throw, allowing Cabrera to reach safely. With Fielder at the plate and facing a two-strike count, Miggy easily swiped second base. It was his first steal since April 11. When Victor Martinez singled into shallow left, Cabrera attempted to score. He narrowly beat the throw from left fielder Sam Fuld and avoided catcher Jose Molina’s tag as he slid into the plate. When Miggy got up, he looked a bit gimpy as he headed back to the dugout. He stayed in the game, though.
The Indians returned to Comerica Park for a weekend series on June 7. Detroit led Cleveland by 2.5 games in the division. In the second inning, Ubaldo Jimenez walked Cabrera with the bases loaded, which gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead. Otherwise, Indians pitchers held Miggy hitless in the Tigers’ 7-5 win.
Cabrera added a single and two walks on June 8. The first free pass happened in the second inning with two outs after Miggy fell behind 0-2 in the count against Carlos Carrasco. He battled back and drew the walk on Carrasco’s ninth pitch of the plate appearance. Ball four was a curve that was close enough for Indians manager Terry Francona to express disbelief that Cabrera laid off it. Most hitters wouldn’t have. The walk loaded the bases for Fielder, who broke the 1-1 tie with a three-run double. The Tigers went on to win 6-4.
The Indians managed to hold Miggy hitless again in the series finale on June 9, although he walked and scored on Don Kelly’s three-run home run as the Tigers picked up a 4-1 victory to sweep their division rivals. Detroit increased its lead in the AL Central to 5.5 games. While Francona couldn’t have been happy about dropping three straight to the Tigers, he may have felt relieved that Cabrera hadn’t unloaded on his Indians staff. Francona talked about the impact that Miggy was capable of making. As he pointed out,
"“He’s hitting in one of the worst hitters’ ballparks I’ve ever seen. To be a power hitter (at Comerica Park) and put up the numbers he’s hitting? Jog out to right-center. It’s a (expletive) haul, man…What he’s doing is unbelievable. If you’re a baseball fan, it’s awesome. If you’re trying to beat him, it’s not so good.”"
The Tigers moved on to Kansas City to begin a six-game road trip on June 10. Cabrera launched a two-run home run to left (#18) in the second to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. That was really the only highlight of the game, however, as the Royals came out on top 3-2.
After singling and walking in two of his first three plate appearances on June 11, Cabrera was hit by a pitch to lead off the eighth in a 2-2 tie. The Royals would pay for that. Fielder singled Miggy to third, and a sacrifice fly from Victor Martinez drove him in with the tiebreaking run. Cabrera came up one more time in the ninth, with the Tigers holding their 3-2 lead. With two outs and a runner on second, he was intentionally walked. The Royals got out of the inning when Fielder grounded out to the pitcher, but the Tigers held on for the 3-2 victory. The Royals took the series with a 3-2 win in 10 innings on June 12. Cabrera walked twice, but wasn’t involved in the scoring.
The Tigers’ journey took them to Minneapolis. The series opener on June 14 was scoreless in the sixth. With Austin Jackson on second and two outs, Twins starter Scott Diamond intentionally walked Cabrera. Fielder’s double high off Target Field’s right-field wall scored both runners. As Miggy was sometimes known to do, he blew through third-base coach Tom Brookens’ stop sign. Cabrera had the right idea, though, as he scored without a throw. The Tigers added two more runs in the inning, which provided all the scoring they’d need in a 4-0 triumph.
Cabrera was hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth on June 15. Fielder followed with a single that sent Miggy to third. Both scored on a Jhonny Peralta single that gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead. The Twins tied the game in the bottom of the fourth and added on in the sixth and seventh. The Tigers trailed 6-2 when Cabrera doubled in the eighth. He scored on an error, but the Tigers lost 6-3.
The Twins became the second team to strike Cabrera out three times in a game that season on June 16. Although he wasn’t involved in the scoring, he singled and walked in the Tigers’ 5-2 win that gave them a split on the road trip.
Back at home on June 17, Cabrera was ready to feast. In the first inning, he hit a two-run home run (#19) to right-center above the auxiliary scoreboard on the first pitch he saw from the Orioles’ Jake Arrieta. That boosted his RBI total to 71. He added two singles (including an infield hit after beating a throw from third baseman Manny Machado), as the Tigers cruised to a 5-1 win. That ran starter Max Scherzer’s record to 10-0. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had a nice view of Miggy’s homer and described the challenge of trying to get Cabrera out. He said,
"“As a pitcher or a catcher, you’ll see a certain swing from him and think, OK, maybe I can go there again. But then he makes the adjustment. You have to adjust before he does. A pitch that worked once against him probably won’t work again.”"
It was a tough day at the ballpark for Cabrera and the Tigers on June 18. Miggy singled in the first but was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, which ended the inning. First-pitch swinging in the fourth, he lined a single to left but was forced out at second on Fielder’s groundout. With the Tigers down 5-2 in the seventh, Cabrera came up with runners on the corners but popped out in foul territory on the first base side. The score was still 5-2 when Miggy came up in the ninth with one out. The Tigers had runners on first and second. O’s closer Jim Johnson got him to hit into a 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch.
Cabrera singled twice and walked on June 19, but wasn’t involved in the scoring. Not many of teammates were, as the Orioles stomped the Tigers 13-3. His ninth-inning single was his 100th hit of the season. According to STATS (now known as Sports Perform), that made Cabrera the first player since Ted Williams in 1948 to reach 100 hits and 71 RBI in his team’s first 70 games. It was Cabrera’s fellow Venezuelan Freddy Garcia who gave up that milestone hit. Garcia was asked what it was like to pitch to Miggy. Garcia answered,
"“You cannot miss. He squeezes you inside, so you try to go away. But you better be really far away. And sometimes it doesn’t matter at all.”"
June 20 marked the 10th anniversary of Cabrera’s big league debut as a member of the Florida Marlins. If anyone could appreciate how extraordinary Miggy had become since then, it was Tigers’ President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who was the GM in Florida when the Marlins signed a teenaged Cabrera as an international free agent in 1999. After watching his superstar take batting practice earlier in the season, Dombrowski talked about the combination of natural talent and dedicated preparation that had shaped Cabrera. He recalled,
"“He was working it from foul pole to foul pole, putting on an unbelievable display, and we were talking about how you take for granted what you are watching, one of the greatest hitters of all time.”"
June 20 also brought the Red Sox into Detroit for a four-game series that turned out to be a preview of the American League Championship Series. The AL East leading Red Sox, at 44-30, had the best record in the league. The 39-31 Tigers held a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central.
With the Tigers trailing 1-0 in the fourth in the series opener, Cabrera ripped a John Lackey pitch for a double off the right-field wall but would be stranded. When he came up to face Lackey again in the fifth, it was in a 2-2 tie. With runners on the corners, Cabrera struck out. The Tigers went on to beat the Red Sox 4-3 on a two-run walk-off homer from Jhonny Peralta.
Miggy singled up the middle in the first and walked in the third against Red Sox ace Jon Lester on June 21. In the meantime, Boston’s lineup had been pounding on Detroit pitching. When Cabrera came up in the fifth, the Tigers trailed 6-2. He crushed Lester’s first pitch. It was a three-run bomb into the visitors’ bullpen in left field (#20). He added two more singles later in the game, but Boston had also kept pounding away. Despite Cabrera’s four-hit night, the Red Sox won 10-6. Lester described the pitch he threw in the fifth inning. He groused,
"“(I) probably threw the best change-up I’ve ever thrown in my life to a guy that’s on a whole other playing field. Wish he’d quit and go to another league, maybe a league that’s especially for him.”"
It was the Tigers’ turn to score 10 runs on June 22. The rout began in the first inning. Cabrera drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Victor Martinez cleared them with a grand slam. The Tigers went on to beat the Red Sox 10-3, much to the delight of over 42,000 fans at Comerica Park. Miggy singled and walked a second time, but oddly enough, didn’t score again after that first inning.
The Tigers were ready to roar again in the series finale on June 23. After Jackson and Hunter drew back-to-back walks to begin the bottom of the first, Cabrera launched a 420-foot ground-rule double into the shrubbery in center field. Instead of a quick 3-0 lead, it was just a 1-0 lead, although Fielder followed up Miggy’s big shot with an RBI groundout. The Red Sox tied the game in the top of the second and had a 4-3 lead by the time the bottom of the seventh rolled around.
Jackson singled to lead off the Tigers’ seventh. Cabrera singled him to second, and each moved up on a Fielder single. Peralta was hit by a pitch, which forced Jackson in with the tying run. Miggy was 90 feet away from scoring the go-ahead run, but an Omar Infante groundout ended the inning. The Tigers did break the tie in the eighth on a bases-loaded Hunter sacrifice fly. That left runners on the corners for Cabrera, but he was intentionally walked by Red Sox rookie reliever Alex Wilson. In the end, the Tigers came out on top 7-5 and took the series three games to one.
Mike Trout and the Angels were Detroit’s next visitors. The Angels had swept the Tigers in Anaheim back in April. In that first series pitting Cabrera and Trout since they finished 1-2 in the 2012 AL MVP voting, both superstars performed well. Cabrera was 6-for-11, with a double, an RBI, and three walks. Trout was 5-for-15, with four runs, a double, six RBI, and one HR. While a friendly rivalry may have been budding, the younger Angel looked up to the older Tiger. Trout said,
"“The way Miguel carries himself and the way he is at the plate is unbelievable”."
In the rematch series, which began on June 25, Trout gave the Angels a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the top of the third. Then it was Cabrera’s turn in the bottom half. With Hunter on third, Miggy just missed out on a sacrifice fly RBI when right fielder Josh Hamilton wasn’t able to catch a foul fly that made it into the seats. That worked out well, however, when Cabrera lined the next pitch for a two-run homer (#21) down the right-field line, just inside the foul pole. The Angels tied it in the fourth and erupted for an ugly eight-run fifth. The final scored ended up 14-8 in favor of the Halos.
The Tigers bounced back quickly on June 26. After Hunter’s solo homer in the first inning, Cabrera followed up with a home run of his own to left (#22). Like a rude houseguest, Trout tied the game in the third with a two-run homer. After the Tigers snatched the lead back, Cabrera singled to lead off the third, but was eliminated in a double play. The Angels reclaimed the lead in the sixth and didn’t look back. They beat the Tigers 7-4.
The Angels nailed down the sweep on June 27 but needed 10 innings to get the 3-1 win. Trout singled and scored in the decisive inning. When Hunter grounded out with a runner on second to end the game, Cabrera was in the on-deck circle.
If Cabrera had been outshined by Trout in that series, he was able to put it behind him pretty quickly. The Tigers flew south to take on the Rays. In the first inning on June 28, Miggy crushed a two-run home run to left (#23). That brought his RBI total to 80. He wasn’t done. He led off the fourth by demolishing the first pitch he saw for his second homer of the game (#24), which was an estimated 423-foot blast. That put the Tigers up 4-0. Cabrera singled in the sixth. With Detroit holding a 4-3 lead in the eighth, he doubled and then scored on Fielders’ two-run homer. The Tigers won 6-3, which bumped Max Scherzer’s record to 12-0.
It was Cabrera’s sixth four-hit game of 2013 (he would add another in July). He only had four of those in his Triple Crown season of 2012. It ran his fourth double-digit hitting streak of the season to 13 (he would extend it to 15).
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Miggy’s big night made him the first player since at least 1900 to have three games in which he went 4-for-4 with two home runs. Oddly enough, all three happened on the road. The first two were on May 4 in Houston and May 19 in Arlington, Texas. John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press slyly wrote,
"“That’s better than a cycle. Cabrera ‘substituted’ the second homer for the triple he needed for the cycle.”"
"“He’s probably leaving little doubt to anyone who the best hitter is. You don’t see what you’re seeing very often…There aren’t many of those guys. They see things different than other guys. They figure things out different, and they have a better feel for what (pitchers) are trying to do to them from at-bat to at-at-bat. I can’t explain it. That’s probably why there have only been a few great ones like that.”"
Thanks in large part to what Cabrera did between April 24 and June 28 in 2013, he won his third straight AL batting title (.348). He led the AL in OBP (.442) for the third time and led the AL in slugging percentage (.636), OPS (1.078), and OPS+ (190) for the second time in his career. Miggy also led the league in wOBA (.455) and wRC+ (193). For the second season in a row, he finished with over 40 home runs (44) and 130 RBI (137). He was seven hits shy of his second straight 200-hit season and likely would’ve cracked that mark if he hadn’t missed a total of 13 games later in the season.
All of those huge numbers added up to Cabrera’s second straight AL Most Valuable Player award as he led the Tigers to a third straight AL Central Division championship.