Miguel Cabrera as good as it gets
Nelson Cruz is so hot right now, the difference between him and the best hitter in the American League is thinner than Derek Holland's mustache. But if the game is on the line and there's a hitter in this series I most dread facing, his name is Miguel Cabrera.
Miggy might not be much for tagging up from third base and scoring on a fly ball, but he's been a force in the American League Championship Series, even though Texas manager Ron Washington has done everything in his power to marginalize him. Cabrera is hitting .375 (6-for-16) with a 1.378 OPS and seven walks in the series. Throw in his totals from the ALDS against the Yankees, and Cabrera has drawn 12 bases on balls, including five intentional passes, this postseason.
When Detroit was pulling away from its AL Central competitors to win the division by 15 games, Cabrera was front and center. He hit .390 in August and .429 in September to win his first career batting title. During a press conference Thursday, Washington called Cabrera "the best baseball player as far as a threat that I've seen since Barry Bonds," and said he's surprised that opponents didn't walk Cabrera 200 times this year. Granted, Washington doesn't have a lot of personal encounters with a guy named Albert Pujols, but personal tributes don't come much more glowing than that.
Yes, Cruz can turn around a 100 mph fastball and drive it into the seats, but Cabrera is special because he gets the job done in so many ways. He'll produce big hits against breaking balls and changeups, or shorten up with two strikes and dump a single to center field to get a run home. His resourcefulness is every bit as impressive as his bat speed and his hand-eye coordination. And when the third-base bag comes into play and gives him an assist well he's just about impossible to beat.
Baseball Reference has a tool that compares players across generations, and it lists Cabrera's most similar batters through age 28 as Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Pujols and Mel Ott. This dude isn't just good -- he's historically good. And when he steps in the batter's box in a big spot this weekend, nobody knows that better than Ron Washington and the Rangers. Rest assured, they will pitch him accordingly.
Gotta go with Nelson Cruz right now
I don't mean any disrespect to Mr. Cabrera, but the batter I most fear this weekend is Nelson Cruz. I mean, if I had to face Nelson Cruz with the game on the line, I would soil myself. And I wouldn't be surprised if several Detroit pitchers already have (BTW: I would be careful washing Ryan Perry's uniform).
I'm not saying that Cruz is a better hitter than Cabrera; I'm just saying that right now Cruz is swinging the bat so powerfully the commissioner should check to make sure it doesn't have "Wonderboy" burned onto the label.
How hot does a guy have to be, anyway? Cruz won Game 2 of the American League Championship Series with a grand slam in the 11th inning. Then he put away Game 4 with a three-run homer in the 11th inning. And then he not only hit a 100 mph fastball off Justin Verlander for a home run in Game 5, he pulled the ball. He got around so fast on 100 mph gas that he slammed the ball off the left-field foul pole.
And that was the second home run he hit off Verlander in this series. Put your best pitcher on the mound against Cruz or your worst, it doesn't matter: Some fan in the outfield is going home with a souvenir. And probably a bruise on his hand that will last 'til Thanksgiving.
Cruz is one of just five players in history to hit five home runs in a postseason series, and he's hit 11 home runs in the past two postseasons. Sheesh, Reggie Jackson should pay him naming rights for the month of October.
And this series still has two games left to play. Or, more likely, it has just one game to play. Given the way Cruz is hitting, the series will end tonight in Game 6, probably with a home run. Let's say the ninth inning. It's one of the few innings he's missed so far.
Even if you feel certain Cabrera poses more of a threat, I think we can at least agree on this: There is no No. 7 hitter to fear more than Cruz.