Going by the standards of the majority of major league players, Miguel Cabrera is having a very good 2014 season. Good enough to make the All-Star Game and be one of the best offensive players for Detroit Tigers.
After disappointing weekend against the Los Angeles Angels (3-for-17 in the four game series, 0-for-8 over the final two games, one RBI, four strikeouts,), Cabrera is hitting .309/.364/.531, good for an .895 OPS. Add in 16 home runs and an MLB leading 36 doubles and 81 RBI. For anyone not named Miguel Cabrera, that's a very good season.
But Cabrera isn't most ballplayers. When yoou're Miguel Cabrera, posting an .895 OPS has fans and media wondering what's wrong with arguably the best hitter of his generation.
One year ago, Cabrera was following up his 2012 Triple Crown year with an even better 2013, terrorizing pitchers throughout baseball. On July 27 of last season, Cabrera was coming off a 2-for-3, three RBI night in a 10-0 win over the Phillies, raising his season numbers to .361/.455/.674, a 1.129 OPS with 33 home runs and 99 RBI.
Keep in mind last July had been Cabrera's worst month of the 2013 season, hitting just .288 with 17 RBI, He proceeded to step up his offensive game in August, slashing .356/.430 /.733 with 11 homers and 31 RBI. There was talk of winning back-to-back Triple Crowns and Cabrera carrying the Tigers to a World Series win.
Then the injury occurred. Cabrera gimped his way through September and October, and has been nowhere near the same offensive force post sports hernia surgery. Strikeouts are up, power is down and the Tigers' 30-year-old first baseman is on track to have his worst statistical season since 2008.
In his his first year in Detroit, a 25-year-old Cabrera hit .292/.349/.537, which was the last time Cabrera hit under .324 or had an on base percentage lower than .393. But even then, Cabrera lead the AL with 37 home runs and was third in RBI at 127.
It's obvious Cabrera isn't the same player who won back-to-back AL MVP awards and became the first Triple Crown winner since 1967.
After Sunday's tough 2-1 loss to the Angels, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus admitted Cabrera is struggling. Ausmus then pointed directly toward the after-effects of the injury and resulting core surgery as the reason why.
"He’s scuffling a little bit right now," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus after the Tigers were squelched for the third consecutive game in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
"I think he’s been a little frustrated all year. Post-surgery – everything’s not in sync. I think surgery is the root cause of it. It can take time. I think there are side effects from all of that."
Team trainer Kevin Rand expanded on Ausmus' comments:
"Miguel’s still putting everything together for himself," Rand said after Sunday’s game. "As far as the lower half of his body, he really didn’t have a chance (he had surgery in November) to get as strong as normal ahead of this season.
"Is he fine? Yes. That’s why he’s playing. I think we’re seeing him get better and I think you saw it the other night with that ball he hit at Arizona (a drive off the center-field balcony).
"It’s a grind for these guys. So, what I’m seeing is not unexpected. I think when you watch him take batting practice or go through his game preparations, you’ll see that he’s getting better and better."
Unlike Ausmus and Rand, Cabrera preferred to not talk about his recent struggles at the plate or about the lingering effects of the injury.
When approached about his relative struggles in 2014, Cabrera cut off a question by turning his back and heading for the shower. He said not a word.
Cabrera was far more open about his injury issues during a Spanish language interview at the All-Star break.
"There are times when I feel good, but there are always muscles that are tightening, muscles that are not functioning properly,'' Cabrera said in Spanish. "It's part of the process. The same thing is happening to Justin Verlander, but the difference is he pitches every five days, so you don't see it as frequently."
"But as he and I talked about, we're never going to offer any excuses for our performance. We always want to be out on the field and compete, and I think that's the most important thing we can do, compete and try to get past this tough time. And the main thing is we're in first place.''
"I think it has affected me quite a bit, like last year, when in the last month I wasn't using my bottom half, my feet and the waist area,'' Cabrera said. "I hope I can slowly regain that. The good thing is I haven't gotten too anxious. I just try to find ways to help my team win.''
Cabrera proceeded to back off of those comments, saying the in injury really wasn't an issue. But his down performance in 2014 has already said plenty.
The Tigers have been as streaky and inconsistent of a team as you'll find in baseball. That can happen when your transcendental, Hall of Fame bound, middle-of the-order slugger. is unable to live to up his normal standards due to a lengthy recovery from a devastating injury.
If the Tigers fail to meet their World Series expectations for this season, Cabrera's injury will be one of the main reasons why.