April 16th, 2012
The last time Miguel Cabrera had a hitless streak this long, he was a 20-year-old rookie trying to get through the dog days of summer with the Florida Marlins.
That was 2003, and Cabrera went hitless in a career-long 23 straight at-bats from August 24-31, dropping his average to .251. He broke out of it with a double off Montreal’s Tomo Ohka; that’s how long ago it was. (Thanks to baseball-reference.com for the stats.)
He was a highly-touted prospect having a hot season then. He’s a defending batting champion, an MVP candidate and one-half of arguably baseball’s most dynamic hitting duo now. That’s only part of what makes his current slump so perplexing.
Cabrera enters Monday’s series opener at Kansas City mired in an 0-for-18 skid, including an 0-for-12 series at Chicago. By comparison, he was 8-for-17 in Detroit’s first five games.
His biggest highlights over three games against the White Sox were a couple defensive gems, including his diving catch on a sharp liner for Rick Porcello on Sunday, and his well-played complaint in the series opener that the batters box was too far forward.
He already looked like a frustrated hitter at that point, visibly flustered after the batters box was redrawn and he popped out to right on the first pitch. He had some decent strikes after that, flying out to the center-field fence his first time up Saturday and doing the same to left field in his first at-bat Sunday. He also required a highlight catch from Dayan Viciedo to rob him of a hit in the seventh inning Sunday.
If there’s any trend to take out of the skid, it’s that he wasn’t doing a whole lot to right field, lacking those opposite-field liners that get him so many big hits over the course of a season. That could be a credit to the way the White Sox pitched him, or it could be a timing issue, though he struck out just twice over three games against the Sox compared to twice in last Thursday’s series finale with the Rays.
Aside from that rookie skid, Cabrera had gone hitless in four straight games just two other times before now — June 23-27, 2003, and May 11-14, 2007. In other words, this is definitely his deepest slump as a Tiger.
The good news for him is that he’ll get left-handed pitching for at least the next couple days in Kansas City, starting with Danny Duffy, against whom he went 3-for-8 with a pair of doubles last year. Cabrera is 9-for-18 with three homers off Bruce Chen, who starts Tuesday. So even as off as Cabrera seemed over the weekend, there’s plenty of reason to expect Cabrera’s skid to end here. If it doesn’t, well, it’ll be a bigger story than it is now.