Cabrera defends Ausmus, talks deadline deals, wonders what if
Miguel Cabrera spent the last two Septembers playing through injuries in a push for a Tigers berth in the postseason. He has no postseason spot for which to push this September, and that hurts worse.
Cabrera finished off a batting title and an MVP season two years ago through a groin tear, and he hit .379 over the final month last year despite a stress fracture in his foot. The left calf strain he suffered this summer seems mild by comparison, but the last-place division standing does not.
He’s pushing, trying to finish off his fourth batting title in five years. But it’s getting tough, and his .189 average (10-for-53) this month shows it. He hasn’t been out of the playoff chase at this point since 2010, and he hasn’t had a losing season in Detroit since 2008, his first as a Tiger.
It’s no fun for the fans, and he knows it. It’s no fun for him, either, no matter how much he smiles when he’s on the field.
“The past two or three weeks, no. It’s no fun at all,” he said as he sat at his locker Wednesday afternoon, before a pinch-hit strikeout Wednesday night extended his hitless streak to 0-for-20. “It’s hard, man, when you lose a lot of games and all the stuff happens this year. It’s kind of hard, but we need to keep pushing,”
The stuff to which he referred included injuries up and down the roster, including himself. It included a buy/sell debate leading up to the July nonwaiver Trade Deadline, the deadline deals that sent out David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria, the dismissal of the general manager who put together those deals just a few days earlier, and now the managerial limbo of Brad Ausmus.
Cabrera watches Price and Cespedes star on their new teams, headed towards October baseball, and he’s happy for them. But he also wonders what might have been.
“You have to be happy for them,” he said. “Those are guys you’ve gotta want to see here if we were in the playoff race. You’ve gotta think how fun it is with these two guys, if this team’s together, how good we can be. It’s a big difference.”
Cabrera was still on the DL when the trades happened. Verlander was back, but was just beginning to round into form. Martinez was back, but starting his second-half struggles. Add in pitching struggles, and the midseason move back into contention to convince management to make deals never happened.
“I think if we were healthy, I think we’d be in the race right now,” Cabrera said. “I don’t know if we could be in the playoffs or first place, but I think we could be in good shape to make a run. Because with these three guys we traded, I think we’d have a good chance if we were together. But it was a hard decision. They made some trades, and we don’t have anything to think about.”
They still stayed on the fringe of contention for a few weeks until that three-game sweep in Toronto in which everything went wrong.
“Yeah, it was kind of tough,” Cabrera said.
Ironically, the series that essentially sank the Tigers’ season was the same series that gave Cabrera the plate appearances he needed to qualify for the batting race. At the time, he said it didn’t matter. He doesn’t dismiss it the same way these days, but he admits it’s conflicting for him.
“It’s over there,” he said, to the side, “but it’s hard when you’re losing games. It’s hard to focus on what you want and what the team wants, because if the team’s not doing good, you know you’re not going to do good. But hopefully we finish strong and make something happen.”
That focus isn’t helped by the speculation surrounding Ausmus, whose situation will be evaluated at season’s end according to GM Al Avila. When a Fire Ausmus sign was on display in Chicago, Cabrera reportedly signed a ball for a fan to get the sign from him. He couldn’t do that last week in Cleveland with reports of Ausmus’ season-end dismissal.
“We’re over there and see what’s in the paper,” Cabrera said, “and some fan comes to you, ‘Oh, the manager’s fired. Oh, you guys stink.’ Man, it’s kind of like, ‘This is not happening right now.’ It’s kind of hard to go to the stadium when some fan in Chicago and Cleveland tells you that. It gets you right here [heart] and right here [head].”
Asked how much he takes that personally, he said, “A lot, because it’s not his fault. So why are you going to blame a guy like that? Why do people say you’ve got to fire him?
“We got a lot of injuries this year. We didn’t come together this year. I think that’s one of the big reasons. I always say, man, if we’re healthy, we can push harder. But this year, we got a lot of key players out for one month, two months. With that, there’s no way you’re going to win, because we need everybody here. It’s not about one player. We’ve got a lot of guys here with big numbers and we don’t go anywhere. It’s not about numbers or stats. It’s about winning games.”