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Cabrera pushing for first Triple Crown since '67

Cabrera pushing for first Triple Crown since '67

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DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera does not like to talk about personal hitting accomplishments. Even after two home runs and six RBIs on Tuesday against Oakland, he'd rather talk about his team than his bat. Cabrera is more worried about the American League Central race than the AL MVP Award race, the division crown over the Triple Crown.

"If you win games and go to the playoffs, I think it's going to take care of everything," Cabrera said. "When you win games, everything comes easier, and everything comes together. But if you're losing, you don't do your job."

Cabrera is not going to say a lot about his honors. So his teammates are going to do a lot of the talking for him.

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"You're talking about a guy that's one home run away from a Triple Crown, and that's a rarity in baseball," said Cabrera's teammate and last season's AL MVP Award winner, Justin Verlander. "I think that's a testament to how good of a player he is, his natural ability. ... It's impressive to watch. It's been impressive to watch since he's been here, but this year is really something special."

The MVP is a subjective award that has eluded Cabrera so far in his career. The Triple Crown is a feat that has eluded all hitters for 45 years since Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski pulled it off in 1967. It's about to get its best challenge since.

According to ESPN.com, nobody since Yastrzemski has gone into the season's final two weeks leading the league in batting average and RBIs, while sitting within a couple home runs of the league lead. When Cabrera homered twice against the A's on Tuesday at Comerica Park, he not only joined the 40-homer club for the first time. He got within two of Texas' Josh Hamilton.

A chin-high fastball from A's reliever Jim Miller ended up lofted into the left-field seats on Wednesday, putting Cabrera within striking distance and putting a real sense around baseball that he can do it.

Again, Cabrera didn't say much about the Triple Crown. What he did say, though, spoke volumes.

"That's amazing," Cabrera said. "It's something [that if] you do, it's like, wow."

Funny, that's what a lot of other people are saying about what Cabrera has been doing this year.

"The stuff that he does with the bat is remarkable," catcher Gerald Laird said Tuesday. "He never ceases to amaze me."

Cabrera rarely ceases to fluster opponents.

"You don't know what to do with the guy," Indians manager Manny Acta said after Cabrera's home run Sunday off Joe Smith. "I mean, you have a really tough submariner there that is a ground-ball pitcher and -- somehow, some way -- he ends up hitting that huge homer.

"He is just amazing. He's the best."

Said ex-teammate Brandon Inge: "Nobody impacts the game like Miguel Cabrera."

Take whatever position you want on the MVP debate, the value of Wins Above Replacement and what Mike Trout's defense is worth. But to say the Triple Crown is a statistical anomaly along the lines of hitting for the cycle is like saying Ted Williams' .406 average in 1941 was a curiosity in a year when he finished third in total bases.

Part of what makes baseball the national pastime is the connection between present and past. If the Triple Crown was a mere statistical quirk, it wouldn't have survived the hitter-friendly 1990s and early 2000s.

There is something rare about hitting for that kind of power with that kind of run production, yet still being able to churn out enough two-strike hits and tough singles to win a batting crown. For many, they are very different skills.

"The combination of all three, it's hard to do," Alex Rodriguez told The Associated Press in 2007, when he briefly made a run. "Usually, guys that are thumpers for power hit .260, .270. Usually guys that are [hitting] .330, .340, those guys hit 10 or 12 home runs."

Cabrera has earned league titles in batting average, home runs and RBIs since joining the Tigers five years ago, but never in the same year. When his .344 average led the Majors last year, it came with his second-lowest home run total over a full season. His AL home run title in 2008, his first season with Detroit, came with a career-low .292 average.

His 2010 season saw him come closest to where he is now. His 126 RBIs led the league, his .328 batting average placed him second, and his 38 home runs ranked third.

Batting champs can handle a 68 mph curveball for a line drive in the gap or a drive off the fence. They don't normally have the strength to propel them 446 feet, as Cabrera did with A.J. Griffin's breaking ball on Tuesday.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was the slowest pitch Cabrera has sent out in four years. It was also his ninth home run measured at 440 feet or more.

Cabrera's home run Wednesday night wasn't a tape-measure shot, but it was a strikeout pitch for most hitters. It was Cabrera's fourth home run in an 0-2 count, tying him with Kendrys Morales for the Major League lead.

Add in a trio of doubles, and Cabrera has as many extra-base hits as anybody in a count when most hitters are looking to cut down their swing and simply put the ball in play. That's one difference that could turn a batting champ into a Triple Crown candidate.

"When he's going good, it's very difficult to have to deal with him," A's manager Bob Melvin. "And with the guy behind him, it makes it even more difficult."

That guy behind Cabrera, Prince Fielder, is the difference he cites.

"I was very locked in last September," Cabrera said, noting his .429 average that month, "but I got a lot of hits. This year I've hit more for power. Like I said, it's the guy behind me. I give a lot of credit to Victor [Martinez] behind me [last year]. But it's kind of like this year I'm getting more pitches to hit."

Indeed, Cabrera has seen a higher percentage of strikes than any other season since 2009, according to baseball-reference.com. Fitting, then, that he's swinging at a higher percentage of pitches (48) than he has since 2009.

"I'm more aggressive at home plate," Cabrera said. "Last year, I was more patient and try to swing at balls over the plate. But this year, I swing at everything."

Cabrera has eight more games at home in Comerica Park, where he's batting .348 with a 1.149 OPS and 27 home runs. He'll finish out the season at Target Field and Kauffman Stadium, two places where the Park Factor numbers are more hitter-friendly than Comerica Park.

The only Major League hitter since 1954 to finish with a .330 batting average, 200 hits, 40 homers and 140 RBIs is Todd Helton in 2000, and he did it playing his home games at Coors Field before the humidor made things fairer for pitchers there. Cabrera has a chance to do it at a place that ranks just barely above average among Park Factors for offense.

If Cabrera wins the home run title, he'll need 43 homers. Add that to the above criteria, and he'd be the first to reach those marks in a season since Al Rosen in 1953.

If Cabrera hits 44 homers with the above criteria, he'd be in territory not seen since Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio in 1937.

Bottom line: Cabrera can do all of this, especially while currently batting .371 with eight home runs in September.

Whether it wins him the AL MVP Award is a question that will be debated incessantly until the winner is announced in November. But the MVP debate, either side, shouldn't take away from statistical history.

"It hasn't been done since 1967," Verlander said. "Come on. Even the fact that he's one home run away is just absolutely absurd. I mean, just watch him. Watch him when we need him down this home stretch. Oh my God."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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