By: Will Burchfield
This is uncharted territory for Miguel Cabrera.
And it’s starting to show.
The light-hearted slugger lost his cool twice on Monday night as his season-long struggles continued in an extra-inning loss to the Royals.
First, in the bottom of the eighth, Cabrera struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt. He barked at himself in demonstrative fashion, loudly enough for it to be heard in the press box, and continued to fume as he made his way back to the dugout. Then he stuffed his bat into the bat rack in anger.
Prior to the game, Brad Ausmus agreed that Cabrera hasn’t resembled himself this season, particularly of late. He’s hitting .211 with a .574 OPS in July.
“Sometimes he’s chasing pitches out of the zone, sometimes he’s fighting himself. And like any hitter who’s not performing the way he would like to, he gets frustrated at himself,” Ausmus said.
That was even more evident in the bottom of the tenth. With the score tied and a runner on second, Cabrera popped up on a hittable pitch, a hanger up in the zone, and chucked his bat to the ground in disgust.
“He sets a very high bar for himself. Like any human being when he steps in the box and has a chance to win the game and doesn’t do it, he gets upset. That applies to everyone in the lineup,” said Ausmus.
But Cabrera’s frustrations seem to be at an all-time high. And it makes sense. Never in his career has he been mired in such mediocrity this deep into the season. (And with a 0.2 WAR, mediocrity is exactly the word.)
Through 84 games, the two-time MVP and 11-time All-Star is hitting .256 with a .762 OPS. Never, in 14 full seasons in the majors, has Cabrera had an average below .280 or an OPS below .800 at this juncture. Even last year, when he got off to a slow start, he was up to .298/.902 by the 84-game mark.
This is an entirely new low.
“There are unquestionably superstars that have had down years,” said Ausmus, referencing Hall-of-Famer Jeff Bagwell in 1995 for the Astros. “He was awful, and it was after his MVP season.”
Cabrera’s worst start through 84 games, this year excluded, came in 2008. He had a .281 average with an .812 OPS, 12 home runs and 49 RBI. He rallied in the second half and finished with a line of .292/.887/37/127. He led the American League in homers.
The latter two numbers are likely out of reach for Cabrera at this point, but there’s no reason he can’t boost his average and OPS to similar levels.
“The real plus is this guy’s a veteran, so he’s been around the game long enough to understand that these things happen,” Ausmus said. “It’s easier to handle when you’re a veteran-type player. It’s much more difficult to go through something like this in the first three or four years of your career.”
The manager does not think the 34-year-old Cabrera, who’s been dogged by various injuries this season, would benefit from any additional rest.
“He didn’t play on Saturday and he’s had days here and there. He was on the D.L. for 10 days (in April). I know some want to worry, I’m not. It never comes quick enough, but he’ll come around,” said Ausmus.
The ending of Monday night’s game provided a snapshot of Cabrera’s season — the slugger was stranded on deck, bat in hand but unable to make a difference.