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Cabrera now chases crown of championship kind

Cabrera now chases crown of championship kind

Cabrera now chases crown of championship kind
DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera's chase with history is over. His next challenge is just beginning.

Part of the reason the Tigers gave up six prospects to acquire Cabrera five years ago was the chance for team owner Mike Ilitch to bring a superstar hitter to Detroit.

But more than the awards, the statistical feats and the brushes with history, Ilitch wants to win. It's the reason behind most of the Tigers' additions over the past five years, starting with Cabrera.

Without Cabrera's September tear, the Tigers wouldn't be here, celebrating their second straight AL Central title while waiting to welcome the A's into town for their Division Series, which begins with Game 1 on Saturday. Now the question is how far he can help lead them.

A's vs. Tigers

If the history of Triple Crown winners means anything, it will be interesting to watch. If Cabrera's focus on the team through this race means anything, it'll be fascinating.

"We work for the whole season for this moment," Cabrera said last week, after deadlocking the division. "Hopefully we can stay focused, we can go out there and play hard and try to win."

It's tough to compare the postseason histories of Triple Crown winners to what Cabrera faces today, because Cabrera faces an entirely different postseason. It's been so long since the last Triple Crown that there were no divisions and League Championship Series -- let alone Wild Card games -- when Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.

When Yaz says that the playoff race helped drive him to the Triple Crown, he's not talking about the American League East. He's talking about the American League, period.

Thus, playoff success for past Triple Crown winners is almost pass-fail. Either their teams won the Fall Classic or they didn't. That said, history shows that Triple Crown winners are worth watching in October.

Yastrzemski's drive to get his team into the postseason and Cabrera's push to do the same in Detroit was a similarity Yaz noted in his statement congratulating Cabrera.

"I am glad that he accomplished this while leading his team to the American League Central title," Yastrzemski said in his statement. "I was fortunate enough to win this award in 1967 as part of the Red Sox Impossible Dream Team."

No, Yastrzemski's Red Sox didn't win the World Series in 1967, falling to the Cardinals in a seven-game set. But it's hard to blame Yaz for it, considering he went 10-for-25 with three home runs and five RBIs. Add with four walks, and he reached base just about half the time, nearly leading Boston back from a 3-1 series deficit.

Frank Robinson, the AL Triple Crown winner in 1966, had just 14 at-bats during the Orioles' four-game sweep of the Dodgers in that year's Fall Classic, but he did his part. Three of his four hits went for extra bases, including two home runs to go with three RBIs. His solo shot off Don Drysdale in Game 4 was the only run in the clinching victory.

Likewise, Mickey Mantle went 6-for-24 in the Yankees' 1956 World Series victory, but homered three times and walked six more.

Those were best-of-7 series. The Tigers' upcoming matchup is best-of-5. Just as one player can change the course of a game, one game can change the course of a series. And as the Athletics already know, Cabrera is perfectly capable of changing the game.

No team scored more runs on A's pitching than the Tigers did on Sept. 18, when they rolled to a 12-2 win at Comerica Park. Cabrera drove in half of them. One came when he turned on a 68 mph curveball from A.J. Griffin and sent it 446 feet to left field. It was his fifth-longest home run of the year, and it came on his slowest pitch to homer off of in four years, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

His double off Griffin was a line drive off the left-field wall. His eighth-inning grand glam off Oakland's bullpen went 420 feet.

His home run the next night was a rain-maker off reliever Jim Miller. It came after the Tigers were already well ahead, but it was impactful, nonetheless.

That two-game, three-homer stretch not only powered Cabrera into the Triple Crown race, it arguably reversed the Tigers' momentum, after falling three games behind the White Sox with 16 games to play entering that series.

And as the A's return to Comerica Park looking for a way to steal a game from Justin Verlander or Doug Fister this weekend, that stretch leaves coaches and pitchers with something to think about.

They can try to cut down on Cabrera's power with a reverse matchup, given that 40 of Cabrera's 44 home runs this season came off right-handed pitchers. However, nearly half of Cabrera's 27 doubles came off lefties in less than 40 percent of the plate appearances he had against righties. The A's might take that.

It'll be fascinating to see how the A's approach him this time around. But the way Cabrera hit this season, he makes the series fascinating to watch regardless.

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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