Detroit — Miguel Cabrera’s prospects for playing at full-throttle in the playoffs are all but nil.
What we know by way of trainer’s statements and medical reports is this:
Cabrera is playing with a strained groin. It is not a sports hernia. It is not, at this point, an injury that will put him on the disabled list or knock him from the postseason.
But, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Sunday’s 6-3 Comerica Park season-finale loss to the White Sox: “It is obvious he’s playing hurt. It is obvious he’s handicapped. It’s just kind of hit-and-miss.”
And nothing the training staff or doctors have said suggests, for a moment, that Cabrera will heal or be fully mobile until this baseball season ends and Cabrera can spend dedicated weeks, if not months, allowing his tender abdomen/groin region to recover.
This is not a healing process that can happen within seven days, or even a half-month, or the Tigers would shut down Cabrera and risk a poorer record and road-game imbalances in their upcoming playoff series.
But the essence of his injury is that it will take time — longer than Cabrera and the Tigers can yield — for him to regain his legs and power and become the 100-percent superstar he otherwise is.
Leyland is not the sole decision-maker on Cabrera’s status. It’s a consensus involving Cabrera, trainers, doctors, Leyland, and the Tigers front office. The priority is Cabrera’s health. The reality is that his career is not being jeopardized by playing with pain. Thus, it becomes a matter of how much discomfort and performance he can balance and endure.
“If he can play, I’m gonna play him,” Leyland said Sunday. “His presence in the lineup is worth an awful lot.”
That presence is nonetheless compromised in brutal ways.
Cabrera has one home run in the past four weeks. He has one double in that same span. That’s it: two extra-base hits since Aug. 26. His swing is limited. His power has subsided dramatically.
Saturday night, he ripped a drive to right that should have been a double. Cabrera was so conditioned to making the turn and boring toward second that he forgot he couldn’t run. He was an easy — almost pathetic — put-out as he never came close to beating Avisail Garcia’s throw.
This is what the Tigers are forfeiting. This is why October might be short-lived for a Tigers playoff team. Their superstar and offensive dynamo is all but crippled.
He will play. But anyone who doubts Miguel Cabrera is the league’s Most Valuable Player need only look at what the Tigers are with Cabrera performing at half his capability.
Playoff roster looming
The Tigers are moving closer to sealing their playoff roster. It looks as if it will unfurl in expected fashion, with only a couple of surprises.
Jhonny Peralta appears certain to win a spot as Leyland’s right-hand platoon bat in left field. In the event Cabrera is too hurt to play, Peralta could also fill in at third base.
Nick Castellanos will not make the postseason roster. And, unless Peralta messes up between now and next week, neither will Matt Tuiasosopo. Hernan Perez is a good bet to be carried as a 14th position player because of his speed and versatility in the infield.
The greater mystery is how Leyland will sort out his 11-man pitching staff. But it would be surprising if it doesn’t break down accordingly:
Justin Verlander figures to pitch in Game 1, which allows Max Scherzer to work a critical Game 2 if the Tigers don’t win their series opener. Leyland might decide otherwise. Critics can argue that Scherzer would be a better Game 1 and Game 5 choice. But the memory of Verlander and what he did in Game 5 a year ago against the A’s is likely to carry enormous clout with Leyland and the Tigers front office.
Rick Porcello will go to the bullpen, where his flexibility could become a huge weapon. Likewise, Bruce Rondon had a good bullpen session Sunday and is on track to become an essential back-end strikeout arm as the Tigers look to put more barbed wire into their late-innings gang.
It’s difficult to see Leyland carrying Phil Coke as a left-handed reliever even if Coke’s tender arm returns to full strength this week. For too long this season he has not pitched with even minimal reliability. It’s unlikely the Tigers are wild about Jose Alvarez, who is simply too hittable.
The guy who re-entered the picture this weekend is Darin Downs. He is finally healthy after a two-month hiatus. And he threw well in a couple of back-to-back appearances. Downs could be the answer. It would, in fact, be surprising if he doesn’t beat out Coke or Alvarez with a week to go in the playoff-roster auditions.
On Saturday the Tigers announced that they had reached 3 million in attendance for the fourth time in seven years.
Not many years ago, 2 million was the Tigers’ gold standard. Now it’s 3 million. And because this team has learned that high payrolls and an elite product are also good business, I would expect little to change, even if a team that figures to be better in 2014 than it is today manages in the next 13 months to win a World Series.
Any idea that if you win, you cut back, doesn’t sound like the Ilitch family way, no matter who’s in charge.