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Cabrera Will Make Or Break The Tigers

Dan Watson |
March 31, 2011 | 10:38 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Cabrera's big bat is crucial for the Tigers. (Creative Commons)
Cabrera's big bat is crucial for the Tigers. (Creative Commons)
It seemed out of place at the time.

Less than 72 hours after his star first baseman was arrested, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland proclaimed, “I think Miguel Cabrera is probably going to have the biggest year of his life.”

This coming after Cabrera resisted arrest and was charged a DUI.

This also coming about a year after it was reported Cabrera spent three months in an alcohol abuse treatment center.

And a little less than a year and a half after police were called to his home for a domestic dispute, again involving alcohol.

The wheels were falling off the wagon, it seemed, and so was Cabrera.

Amazing what a few good weeks can do.

Despite all that, Cabrera has thus far done nothing to disprove Leyland’s prediction.

After leaving a cloud over much of the Tigers’ spring training, Cabrera emerged to hit .309 (as of Tuesday). Ten of his 19 hits went for extra bases.

It is the critical storyline hanging over the American League Central as the 2011 season begins. Which Cabrera will emerge for the Tigers?

Thus far, the only Cabrera baseball has known has been a terror to opposing pitchers.

He’s only 27, but already he has a trophy case stashed with enough hardware to make Meryl Streep blush.

He’s a five-time Al-Star selection, an AL home run champion, a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and he won the World Series in his rookie season.

There’s nowhere he can’t play, having performed stints at third base, left field, right field and now first base. He’s a .313 career hitter with 247 home runs and 879 RBIs.

His numbers at age 27 are comparable to those of Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey.

For the Tigers, he’s the offensive anchor, and the best hope of winning their first-ever AL Central championship.

He is coming off a year in which he hit .328, with 38 home runs and a league-best 126 RBIs. He was the MVP runner-up.

On the mound, Justin Verlander is also an anchor.

Both are key to the Tigers’ chances in a division once again up for grabs among the usual suspects: the Tigers, the White Sox and the Twins.

The Twins have won the last two division titles, including in 2009, when they beat the Tigers in a one-game playoff for the division championship.

Even when the Tigers made the World Series in 2006, they did it as a wild card.

The Tigers are betting big on both Verlander and Cabrera. Cabrera has another five years left on his contract, which was signed in 2008 — an eight-year, $153.3 commitment. Last year, Verlander signed a 5-year $80-million contract extension.

So far, neither has disappointed, but Cabrera’s recent rash of problems is worrisome.

Not that the Tigers will admit so much.

“Let me tell you, if Miguel Cabrera doesn’t hit, I’ll be pickin’ poop with the chickens,” Leyland said.

But his addiction is serious, beyond a little drinking problem.

According to the police report, Cabrera told officers to “Shoot me, kill me.” He drank Scotch in front of them and walked into the middle of the highway.

For now, he is part of the MLB treatment problem, meeting with doctors and counselors. He also has a veteran, Raul Gonzalez, appointed by baseball to keep him on the straight and narrow.

If Cabrera does have the “biggest year of his life,” the Tigers have a chance at their first AL Central title. They added catcher Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit in the offseason, along with pitcher Brad Penny.

Along with a number of talented young pitchers, like Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, the Tigers could shock everyone and be drinking champagne in October.

But only if Cabrera keeps his hands off the stuff before then.



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