CHICAGO -- The Tigers had to breathe a sigh of relief when they were able to put All-Star Miguel Cabrera back in the lineup last weekend. His presence, as manager Jim Leyland pointed out last week, changes the entire strategy of an opposing team against the Detroit lineup.
Getting Cabrera back in the lineup was the first part. Now, they have to get him hitting again.
It's far from a slump, more like a skid in the larger context of his season, but Cabrera is 2-for-18 in September since returning from the groin injury that sidelined him over Labor Day weekend. His two singles in Kansas City over last weekend drove in three runs, and he was walked twice in each of those two games.
The Tigers put up nine runs on the White Sox without much output from Cabrera on Tuesday night; he reached base on one of Conor Gillaspie's three errors and came around to score one of Detroit's two first-inning tallies. Cabrera hit two drives to right field that former teammate Avisail Garcia corralled -- one at the fence, the other in the corner.
The reigning American League MVP is not 100 percent, and he probably won't get to that point this season. The next field Cabrera hits on at full strength might be Kaline Field in Lakeland, Fla. when Spring Training begins in February. Other than the recent stats, though, there aren't any obvious signs to suggest he's worse off than he was in August, when he hobbled through a performance that won him AL Player of the Month honors.
Cabrera is hitting the ball with authority, and he has just three strikeouts in his 18 September at-bats.
"At one time, he missed like five out of seven games or something," Leyland said, "so sometimes you can get a little out of sync with that. But I think he's about an eyelash from getting back to where he was."
Cabrera won a Triple Crown last year in a season that included an 0-for-22 slump in April and an 0-for-17 skid over the summer, so this tough stretch is hardly a death knell on his season. That said, his recent struggles have cost him momentum in trying to catch Baltimore's Chris Davis for the AL home run lead, and has cut into his lead in the batting race.
What was once a 30-point gulf in batting average between Cabrera and Mike Trout was down to just 12 points entering play on Wednesday, putting at least a twinge of intrigue into what looked like a victory lap for Cabrera toward a third consecutive batting title.
Cabrera held a seven-RBI advantage over Davis for the Major League lead.