Game 134: Thursday’s comeback, and Cabrera’s early departure
So to recap, the Tigers came within an out — within a strike, in Victor Martinez’s case — of being swept in a four-game series at home for the first time since 2004 and reviving memories of the Labor Day series in Kansas City in 2009 that started that late-season collapse. They not only pulled out the win with a four-run ninth inning, they added onto their AL Central lead when Cleveland was swept in Atlanta. As an amazing result, Detroit has a half-game bigger lead coming out of this four-game set than it did coming in. The Tigers are 10-11 since they swept a four-game series in Cleveland, yet they’ve lost just a half game off their lead in that stretch as they prepare to welcome the Indians to town for a three-game weekend set.
Their biggest comeback of the season until Thursday was a 4-0 deficit they faced after one inning in Toronto July 2, a deficit they erased with a six-run second inning that included a three-run homer from Miguel Cabrera. They had just three wins when trailing in the ninth inning (two of them via Alex Avila home runs on the road), and just four games in which they scored more than two runs in the ninth. Their other four-run ninth was the Chris Perez meltdown in Cleveland, fueled in large part by Avila’s three-run homer.
Thursday’s rally erased what was once a 6-1 deficit, and it came without any role from Miguel Cabrera. And yet as scary as the sight of him limping off the field looked, his banged-up left leg clearly a problem once again, he expects to play Friday.
“I’ll play tomorrow,” he said after the game. “Don’t worry.”
He made the reason plainly clear.
“Cleveland, bro,” he said.
So to recap, what looked like a worst-case scenario for the Tigers after five innings Thursday looks now like a charmed life. And if Detroit can get its pitching back in order against a Cleveland lineup that scored just three runs over 27 innings in Atlanta, the Tigers could head into the final four weeks of the season with an even bigger division lead than it had coming out of Cleveland a few weeks ago. And as much as the Indians’ September schedule has been touted as easy, they and the Tigers play the exact same number of games against teams over .500: nine of their final 25, six of them against a Royals that has been teetering wildly around the .500 mark for the past couple weeks.
Which raises a side question:
At what point, if ever, do the Tigers consider resting Cabrera in September?
If the Tigers’ division crown is set, but Cabrera’s Triple Crown is still up in the air, would Cabrera — or the Tigers, or Major League Baseball — want him to sit?
The medical information coming from the Tigers has been consistent: Cabrera can’t make his injuries worse by playing. Still, Cabrera was favoring his troublesome left leg as he limped off the field Thursday, having tried to stretch a single into a double and spark a rally that eventually happened without him.
The diagnosis is abdominal discomfort, in this case extending into a groin injury.
“You don’t feel very comfortable when you see any of your players that might be hurt or in pain,” Leyland said. “But at least I knew what this was right off the bat. We have a pretty good idea that’s an aggravation of it.”
It’s an aggravation of the injury that has bothered him for close to two months, but at this point, it’s the same day-to-day diagnosis he has had all along.
The combination of Don Kelly replacing Cabrera at third base, Matt Tuiasosopo entering the game in Cabrera’s spot, and later Torii Hunter pinch-hitting for Kelly, left the Tigers with an interesting setup at the end. Tuiasosopo was playing third base, something he did a lot in Spring Training (he actually didn’t play much left field until his hot start at the plate put him into the conversation for the Opening Day roster) but something Leyland said a few weeks ago he’d only do now in an emergency late-game situation. If Leyland can count on Don Kelly at third, and he can use Tuiasosopo at third, it gives him options to get by. It’s not something you’d want to do with a division race on the line, but we’ll see.
That’s the team side. Then there’s the individual side. Cabrera has a 28-point lead in the batting race and enough plate appearances that he can miss some games and still qualify for his third consecutive batting crown. He has a nine-RBI lead for Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who leads him in home runs by four. The Orioles are in a scrum for the AL East and Wild Card, which means Davis is going to play. Unless he has an absolutely horrendous September, it’s very difficult to envision Cabrera winning the Triple Crown without playing all the time down the stretch, even if the Tigers wrap up a division title early.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to envision the Tigers getting back to the World Series without Cabrera as his usual threat. His presence and his potential shape how opposing pitchers approach the entire Tigers lineup. This much is obvious. So what do you do?
How the Tigers handle September call-ups could say a lot before we get to that point. Every indication right now remains that they don’t want to call up guys who won’t play a role here. Nick Castellanos isn’t making the trip unless the Tigers have a plan to get him playing time. It won’t come at third base, no matter what Cabrera’s situation is. But could it come in the outfield if Kelly and Tuiasosopo become options at third?
Leyland said Thursday morning, before Cabrera aggravated his injury, that their plans on September call-ups are pretty well set.