Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera played with a sore groin throughout most of the second half of the season, limiting his ability to defend his Triple Crown. The soreness has continued to bother him throughout the post-season both at the plate and defensively at third base. Opposing teams have considered attacking him with bunts, but Cabrera has adjusted by playing way up on the grass against speedier players. He is hitting .278 with one home run in the ALCS against the Red Sox after hitting .250 with one homer in the ALDS against the Athletics.
Manager Jim Leyland laments that Cabrera isn’t fully healthy, depriving fans of seeing one of this generation’s greatest hitters. Via Tim Healey of WEEI:
“It’s really a shame, to be honest with you, for the whole baseball world because they’re not getting a chance to see him at his best,” Leyland said of Cabrera. “This time of year, people are turning on the TV, they love to see these guys. Obviously I think he’s the best player in the league. To not be able to see him at his best because of a physical ailment, it hurts a little bit, but that’s just the way it is. You have to live with those things.”
“It kind of breaks your heart, to be honest with you, to see him out there the way he has to be out there and the way he is right now because you know he’s hurting,” Leyland added later. “Everybody is conscientious these days about people earning their money. You talk about somebody who is earning their money, this guy feels like he owes it to the Detroit Tigers and our fans to be out there”
Should the Tigers get pushed out of the playoffs, either in Game 6 or Game 7, it won’t be the fault of Cabrera’s ailing groin, however. While he may be injured, he has still been among the more productive Tigers hitters. First baseman Prince Fielder has just four hits in 19 at-bats in the ALCS, none of them homers. Torii Hunter is hitting .217. Austin Jackson has five hits, all singles. Omar Infante is hitting .176.
One one-and-done game down, one to go. Tonight the National League takes center stage and, once again, we’re in Pittsburgh for the proceedings. Let’s break it all down:
The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, National League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern.
The Place: PNC Park, Pittsburgh
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jake Arietta vs. Gerrit Cole
- If you forget for a moment that they’re really just a fun gimmick, Wild Card games are supposed to be the penalty imposed on good-but-less-than-great teams for not winning their division. It’s a pretty tough penalty here, however, given that the Pirates and the Cubs won 98 and 97 games, respectively. We’ve had wild card teams with as many or more wins than that in the past — the 2001 A’s (102 wins); 2002 Angels (99); 2004 Red Sox (98); and 1999 Mets (97) — but we’ve never had it in the four years of the expanded, two-wild-card-team era. These are some strong clubs, either of which would seem to deserve a longer playoff series, but them’s the breaks.
- The focus here, of course, is the pitching matchup. Jake Arrieta is a decent bet to win the NL Cy Young Award after a 22-6, 1.77 ERA 236 K, 229 IP season. Gerrit Cole is an ace too, of course, and he just had a year that would be Cy Young-worthy in a lot of seasons (19-8, 2.60 ERA, 202 Ks in 208 IP). Arrieta’s second half has been astoundingly good and he’s been fantastic against the Pirates this year, going 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA in 36 innings over five starts vs. the Buccos. Cole has four starts against Chicago this season, going 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 25 and a third. If you’re anxious for that Mets-Dodgers series to get going because of all the pitching porn you’re going to see there, this is a nice appetizer.
- As for lineups, Joe Maddon’s big guns are great, particularly the potent duo of Anthiny Rizzo and Kris Bryant, but the Cubs have all kinds of options up and down the lineup and, particularly in the second half, have been using any number of combinations given their strong bench. The Pirates have all-everything Andrew McCutchen leading the way, but the bottom half of the order has been scuffling in the past month or so and losing Jung Ho Kang for the season depleted the team’s depth. Overall the Pirates had a better offense than the Cubs this year but it’s hard to say, at this moment, the Cubs don’t have the better bats.
- The Cubs in general and Arrieta in particular have been a good road team this year. Late-date trolling the Cubs over not calling up Kris Bryant earlier and thereby dooming the Cubs to playing this game at PNC Park may be fun, but it’s sorta beside the point here.
- The start time, adjusted for CDT and military time is 19:08. Or 1908. Are you freaking out right now? Because you should TOTALLY be freaking out right now. [scary music plays].
The Astros and Yankees were interesting enough I suppose, but they were two teams sort of struggling their way into the playoffs. This, in contrast, is gonna be a hell of a lot of fun. Two of the best pitchers in baseball and two of the best teams in baseball facing off in front of a crowd that is likely to be insanely pumped.
I’ll make a wild guess and say the Cubs have the edge, but that’s really me flipping a coin and thinking about storylines and crap like that more than anything else. There is no obvious favorite here.
Colby Rasmus hit a big home run last night to set off the scoring and to set the tone for the Astros.
After the game he spoke to Jeff Passan of Yahoo and voiced some nice perspective and maturity as well, acknowledging that his time and St. Louis and Toronto left him with a reputation that he’d rather not have follow him around forever, saying “I don’t want them to say Colby Rasmus was a piece of crap because he had all of this time and just wanted to be a douche. I just try to love on everybody.”
Fair. By the way, this is what Rasmus looked like either just before or just after telling reporters that he “just tries to love on everybody.”
Ready for some lovin’?