Cabrera on quest for consecutive Triple Crowns
Defending AL MVP is aware of unprecedented feat but is more focused on winning
Miguel Cabrera does not have much interest in discussing his individual accolades. But they may become awfully difficult to ignore if he continues his torrid pace in his quest for an unprecedented second consecutive Triple Crown.
None of the previous 11 players to win the Triple Crown -- a group that has accounted for 13 since 1900 -- have finished atop his respective league in the Triple Crown offensive categories the following year. Yet, entering play Friday, Cabrera finds himself near that position.
The Tigers third baseman currently leads the American League with his .368 batting average and 78 RBIs, though he trails Orioles slugger Chris Davis by six home runs.
"I try to keep focused on what we want [as a team]," Cabrera said recently. "I try to win games. I don't get distracted about what people say. Go out there and play your game, try to play to win and that's it. Don't try to put extra pressure on yourself and don't try to do anything else [other than what] you can do."
Cabrera admitted that it's easier this season to ignore the talk about his personal accomplishments, having already dealt with all the hoopla last September surrounding his run to the Triple Crown. Still, history suggests that the defending AL Most Valuable Player Award winner will need the stars to align just perfectly if he's going to maintain that type of consistency for a second consecutive full season.
The slugger is not alone in his fast start in defending a Triple Crown. Both Frank Robinson in 1967 and Mickey Mantle in 1957 had very similar starts to the one Cabrera is experiencing one season after winning their respective Triple Crowns.
Through 77 team games, just as Detroit has completed entering play Friday, Robinson found himself in the top two in all three Triple Crown categories. He led the league with a .337 average and sat just one home run and two RBIs behind league leader Harmon Killebrew.
It was right around that time, however, when Robinson's quest for back-to-back Crowns was derailed by a concussion that forced him to miss more than a month of playing time from June 27-29. He ultimately finished the year second in batting average, fourth in home runs and a distant third in RBIs, while playing just 129 games.
Mantle found himself in an even better position through 77 team games.
The Yankees legend led the league at that point with a .369 batting average and 22 home runs. His 57 RBIs left him just three off the pace set by teammate Bill Skowron. Mantle just couldn't keep pace down the stretch, finishing the '57 season eight home runs and 20 RBIs behind four-time All-Star Roy Sievers.
Robinson's case proves how quickly the matter can be taken out of Cabrera's own hands, and Mantle demonstrated just how difficult it is to produce at such a high level in all three categories over consecutive seasons. In today's game, Cabrera has the added element of constant media attention across multiple platforms, though he has done his best to keep the focus on the team through the first half.
"The best part about it is, he has fun doing it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He just does it. I mean, he just plays. When he's serious in that batter's box, he's pretty special. When he's serious in that batter's box, he's scary."
Scary enough that opposing pitchers and managers are still often left shaking their heads after watching Cabrera swing the bat, despite seeing him put on impressive displays at the plate time and again. One of Cabrera's most recent victims was Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who served up a home run to the slugger in a game in which Cabrera finished 4-for-4.
"I probably throw the best changeup I've ever thrown in my life to a guy that's just on a whole 'nother playing field," Lester said after the June 21 game. "I wish he'd quit and go to a different league -- make a league especially for him."
Such a league would make it infinitely easier for Cabrera to win another Triple Crown, although he seems to be making a legitimate push, regardless, to join the ranks of Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby as the only two-time Triple Crown winners.
Yet, doing so in consecutive seasons would leave Cabrera all alone -- as Williams didn't win his second until 1947, five years after capturing his initial Triple Crown. Hornsby had a three-year gap between his Triple Crown seasons in '22 and '25.
Robinson, with his injury-plagued '67 campaign, remains the only defending Triple Crown winner to even finish in the top five in all three categories -- though he wasn't really in contention at any point down the stretch to lead the league in either homers or RBIs.
Whether Cabrera will be fortunate enough to avoid the injury bug, continue to step up with runners on base and hit enough homers to finish ahead of Davis -- and everyone else -- remains to be seen. Either way, the only crown Cabrera plans to focus on going forward is the Tigers' search for another AL Central crown.
That doesn't mean others won't at least be keeping an eye on the top of the AL leader boards throughout the summer.
"He's fun to watch," Leyland said. "It's an honor, really, to watch that every day. That's not even a thrill. That's an honor to watch that every day."