Monday's game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians set up to be one of those much-anticipated September pitching duels between aces on playoff contenders: David Price versus Corey Kluber, the team everyone expected to win the American League Central against the team that has suddenly turned it into a three-team race for the division crown.
Miguel Cabrera would like to tell everyone: Remember me?
Cabrera was coming off an August where he hit .252 with one home run. He had just two home runs in July. He'd been more Jolbert Cabrera than Miggy Cabrera of late when he stepped in against Kluber in the top of the first inning, one out and Ian Kinsler on third after a bloop triple to right field. Kluber entered on a roll that has turned him into one of the game's top starters, posting a 1.69 ERA over his previous 13 starts, with a .207 average allowed and 105 strikeouts in 96 innings. Cabrera, battling a sore ankle, hadn't homered since Aug. 2.
Cabrera took a fastball for a strike and then muscled an 0-1 changeup just over the fence in left field. It wasn't a good pitch from Kluber; catcher Yan Gomes wanted it down, but the pitch was up and too far inside. Cabrera has struggled lately driving hard stuff inside, but he didn't miss the 87 mph changeup.
As it turned out, it wasn't Kluber's day, as he was knocked out in the third inning after throwing just 57 pitches, his shortest outing of the year. He gave up three home runs after allowing just four over those previous 13 starts. Cabrera would add another home run in the eighth inning off rookie reliever Bryan Price, making his major league debut, and Price rebounded from his disastrous nine-hits-in-a-row outing to pitch Detroit to a 12-1 victory.
Cabrera is one of the key players to watch in September. He's still the main cog in that Detroit lineup, capable of doing great things and leading the Tigers to a fourth straight division title. Here are some other important players for September, one for each playoff contender.
Trevor Bauer, Indians: The right-hander has tossed two straight scoreless starts but got knocked out before the fifth inning in two of his previous three starts. That inconsistency has been the case for him all season. Terry Francona won't ask much more than six innings out of him, but he needs to deliver those six, not three or four.
Yordano Ventura, Royals: He continues to walk a tightrope but scraped together another "just good enough" start to get the win in Monday's 4-3 victory over the Rangers. But you wonder if the rookie right-hander is about to hit the wall as he's walked 17 in 24 2/3 innings over his past four starts. The Royals haven't had to dig very deep in their rotation -- only nine starts beyond their top five guys -- but watch Ventura closely. He's at 152 innings after throwing 149 last year between the minors and majors.
Kendrys Morales, Mariners: Lloyd McClendon continues to think Morales is his cleanup hitter, even though he's now hitting .227/.270/.327 on the season and has three home runs in 33 games with Seattle. Heck, those numbers aren't better than what Justin Smoak can offer -- who, by the way, was back in the lineup at first base in Monday's loss to the A's.
Matt Shoemaker, Angels: With Garrett Richards out for the season, Shoemaker is suddenly the Angels' best starter. Nobody will call him the ace of the staff ahead of Jered Weaver, but the rookie right-hander is 7-1 with a 1.12 ERA over his past eight starts, with 43 strikeouts and six walks in 48 1/3 innings. The Angels' rotation is in scramble mode even as the team has jumped past the A's in the AL West standings, but it's also leaning on more great work from Shoemaker.
Brandon Moss, A's: He went 0-for-3 in the win over Seattle and is now homerless since July 24 -- hitting .163 with just three extra-base hits in 31 games. Adam Dunn would help relieve some of the power issues the A's have had without Yoenis Cespedes, but Moss needs to start hitting like he did in the first half, when he made the All-Star team after hitting 21 home runs.
Nelson Cruz, Orioles: The Orioles would love to see Cruz rediscover the hot bat he had early on. He did have six home runs in August and hit his 36th on Monday, but has hit just .181 with a .254 OBP since the All-Star break. Buck Showalter has kept him in the cleanup spot but the all-or-nothing approach has since a little too much nothing in recent weeks.
Bryce Harper, Nationals: Washington will win the East so it's all about getting Harper in a consistent groove for the postseason. Minus Ryan Zimmerman, Harper's power could be a key to a long October. The thumb is finally looking healthy and he launched two long home runs on Sunday in Seattle. The pressure isn't on him to carry the team -- he's batting sixth -- but he's starting to provide that presence behind Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond.
Mike Minor, Braves: If the Braves win a wild card, it has to come from the pitching. As we saw in Monday's no-hitter, the lineup just isn't going to suddenly put it together. Enter Minor, so good a year ago but a guy who had struggled most of the season. But he's allowed just four runs his past three starts, allowing nine hits over 21 2/3 innings.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: The numbers speak for themselves: 12-4, 1.83 ERA, 4.26 SO/BB ratio in the first half; 3-5, 4.68 ERA, 1.94 SO/BB ratio in the second half.
Ryan Braun, Brewers: Braun had an All-Star-caliber first half but he's hitting .229/.280/.414 since the break. The power is still there -- seven home runs -- but he's chasing a lot of pitches out of the strike zone (38 percent chase rate) and getting himself out too easily. Much the offense isn't going to carry the Braves, the pitching here isn't going to carry the Brewers. They need a huge September from their right fielder.
Gerrit Cole, Pirates: Cole took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh against the Cardinals on Monday in a big game to kick off a three-game series. With one out, he gave up a single to Pete Kozma and then a two-run, pinch-hit homer to Kolten Wong, a 1-2 fastball, middle-in. Blame the pitch selection, blame the location, but games are won and lost on one bad pitch. Jon Jay then tripled and scored the go-ahead run.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Let's see, if the Dodgers win every Kershaw start they probably only have to go about .500 in the other games to win the division. Fair?
Buster Posey, Giants: He's been one of the best players in baseball in the second half, hitting .342/.391/.565. Do that another month, beat Kershaw, and maybe the Giants win the West.
Derek Jeter, Yankees: Does he have one final legendary act in him?