In the last month of the 2015 season, Miguel Cabrera and Boston's Xander Bogaerts were locked in an unexpected contest for the 2015 American League batting title. On Oct. 3, Cabrera finished his last scheduled start with a .338 batting average, now ahead of Bogaerts by 18 points, to all but claim the 2015 AL batting title. It will be Cabrera's fourth career batting title.
Cabrera is just the 13th major league player to win the title four times in his career. He's the first Tiger to win four since Harry Heilmann (1921, '23, '25, '27), and the first major leaguer since Wade Boggs took five (1983, '85-'88) in his career. Only two Detroit Tigers players in history have won at least four batting titles: Heilmann, and Ty Cobb -- who won 12 (with one additional in dispute) and eight straight (not including the disputed season in the middle of that stretch).
When Cabrera went on the disabled list on July 4 with a Grade 3 left calf strain his batting average was .350. He returned to the Detroit Tigers' lineup on Aug. 14, one day ahead of the anticipated return date. Through August his batting average never fell below .350 and topped out at a staggering .371. But September hit and his average began to drop until it rested in the .330s.
There was some doubt whether Cabrera would even qualify. After he missed six weeks of playing time as a result of the injury, making up those missing at-bats to qualify for the title required an average of four plate appearances every game to qualify -- PA are used to qualify but at-bats calculate the average to determine the title winner.
On Sept. 28, Cabrera qualified for the batting title, with 502 plate appearances after his eighth-inning groundout. After a 7-4 win over the Texas Rangers that same day, the Tigers decided to limit Cabrera's playing time the rest of the year with Ausmus later saying he wanted to get his younger players some playing time.
The 2015 season had been an up and down year for Cabrera. He had offseason surgery on Oct. 22 for bone spurs and a stress fracture in the navicular bone at the top of his foot and he did not start on time for spring training. However, he was in the Opening Day lineup, although he was clearly still regaining his strength. Some questioned supposedly rushing him into the lineup for the sake of having him there for the first game of the year.
Throughout the season Cabrera's ankle flared up but considering his surgery it wasn't unexpected. He set another milestone before the break and earned another starting AL All-Star nomination. On May 16, he hit the 400th home run of his career just as a massive downpour overtook Busch Stadium with the Tigers facing the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cabrera had never been on the DL during the regular season in his career. That changed when he was taken out of a July 3 game for what was thought to be a hamstring injury. It was so bad at the time that Cabrera himself called for head athletic trainer Kevin Rand -- who immediately took him out. Cabrera landed on the DL the next day and missed six weeks.
Prior to July 4, Cabrera was batting .350 and had a .456 on-base percentage, both the best of his career. His .578 slugging wasn't his career-best but it was close, and his .227 isolated power was second on the team only to J.D. Martinez -- also on his own tear. After Cabrera returned from the DL he destroyed pitchers for about two weeks by batting .393/.479/.639, nine doubles, 12 runs scored, 10 walks, and 12 RBI. But he only hit two home runs.
As August began to close, Cabrera began to slow. His home run power had been noticeably absent. When he hit a wall in September, it became glaringly evident and has not let up. Cabrera did not hit a home run from Aug. 27 to Oct 3 -- a drought lasting career-longs of 121 plate appearances and 29 games. Cabrera had been batting .247/.352/.281 since Sept. 1 with only eight RBI and three doubles before the HR. He walked a whopping 14 times, but he only scored eight times and grounded into seven double plays in that time.
Cabrera finished the season with 18 home runs, the first time he's closed out a season with less than 20 home runs since his rookie season with the Miami Marlins, when he hit 12. Despite the loss of power, Cabrera managed to stay ahead of Bogaerts as the final games came to a close. That, however, was thanks in no small part to his first-half tear prior to the DL stint. That Cabrera was able to hold the lead even through a long slump with the worst homerless streak of his career says just how remarkable he is.