By: Will Burchfield
Miguel Cabrera has a lot on his shoulders.
Meanwhile, his back is aching.
The emotional and physical stresses of a dour season seem to be dragging the 11-time All-Star down. He’s hitting .260 with 13 home runs, 50 RBI and a .766 OPS, by far the worst numbers of his career.
This is beyond the realm of a slump. This is categorically a bad year.
In searching for explanations, and surely there’s more at play than poor luck and the whims of the game, a couple factors stand out.
For one, Cabrera’s native Venezuela is on the verge of collapse. He spoke out about the political turmoil in July, noting that he’s received death threats in his hometown of Maracay and been forced to pay bribes to protect his family.
Brad Ausmus understands it’s a delicate situation. In addition to Cabrera, the Tigers’ Venezuelan players include Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez and Bruce Rondon.
“I’ve talked to a couple of them about it,” Ausmus told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “I guess I couldn’t even understand when something like that is happening in your home country and you’re 1,000 miles away because it’s never happened to me, but I know that it’s upsetting to them.
“I’m sure that it weighs on their minds on an extremely regular basis.”
Then there’s the physical pain.
Cabrera hurt his back during the World Baseball Classic in March, an issue that has dogged him throughout the season. He’s dealt with groin, hip flexor and oblique injuries as well.
The slugger has always played through pain, but perhaps never to a degree like this. Nevertheless, Ausmus sees Cabrera doing everything he can to keep himself on the field.
“Physically, Miggy’s actually doing pretty well. He’s gonna have the back problem. That’s gonna flare up from time to time, probably the rest of his life,” said Ausmus. “I speak to that from experience because I had back surgery and had back issues as a player.
“He’s actually done an excellent job. He’s lost in the neighborhood of 20-25 pounds to try and relieve some of that stress on the back. He looks good, he’s moving well.”
Things cratered for Cabrera in July. He hit just .237 with a .645 OPS. He hadn’t posted a monthly average that low since August of 2007 with the Marlins.
But the calendar has mercifully turned to August, and Ausmus is hopeful things will soon turn around for one of the greatest hitters of all time.
It bears mention that Cabrera still ranks third in the majors in line-drive rate and seventh in hard-contact rate.
“He’s not having a Miggy-like season, but the truth is the last two months of last year is what turned 2016 into a Miggy-like season. He got player of the month in September, he was absolutely crushing the ball. I still hold out hope that that’s coming,” Ausmus said.