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Miguel Cabrera’s 2021 Journey to 501

If you have been to the Baseball Unplugged web site in the past few weeks, you may have noticed that a “Miguel Cabrera Countdown” was added to the top of the home page. This was started a little after Cabrera recorded his 2,900th hit. At that time, Cabrera needed 100 hits in 100 team games to get to 3,000 hits by the end of the 2021 season. Right now, Cabrera needs 42 hits in 34 team games.

Cabrera still has a shot at the 3,000 hit milestone this year, but he will have to have some multi-hit games and play just about every day going forward. In his MLB career, Cabrera has had multi-hit games in one-third of his career games played. He has 847 multi-hit games in 2,558 games played, which is 33.1 percent. This season, Cabrera has 28 multi-hit games in 101 games played.

So how did he get to 500 this season?

Cabrera’s 2021 season can be broken down into 7 different phases.

Phase 1

On Opening Day to start the season in Detroit, it was snowing outside, and Shane Bieber was the starting pitcher for Cleveland. With the reigning Cy Young winner in the American League on the mound for Cleveland, it would have been foolish to bet against Cleveland. However, in the first inning, Cabrera hit the first home run of the 2021 MLB season off of Bieber that scored two runs. Detroit would go on to win the game, 3-2.

The backdrop of Comerica Park in the snow to start the season, while Cabrera swung at the Bieber pitch became the 2021 Topps Now card number 1. The card is still one of the most sought after Topps Now cards of 2021. It might not be as iconic as the Dr. Anthony Fauci 2020 Topps Now card number 2, but it is hard to find for less than $10.00 on eBay right now.

Phase 2

After the first two games of the season, Cabrera was 2-for-7 with 1 HR, and 3 RBI’s. But then it was a downward spiral for Cabrera, and the Tigers went into a funk after sweeping Houston on April 14. Cabrera was batting .125 when he went on the IL for two weeks.

On April 25, Cabrera returned from the IL and would go 3-for-11 in his first three games back. But starting April 29, Cabrera did not get a hit in 7 straight games. He would bottom out on May 5 with a 0-for-4 game at Boston in which his batting average was an uncomfortable .098.

I don’t need to do a whole lot of research to know that Cabrera has probably never had a batting average that low heading into May.

To compound the issue, during this same time, Albert Pujols was designated for assignment on May 6. Both Pujols and Cabrera are considered all-time greats, but at the back-end of expensive contracts. With Pujols being released from the Angels and Cabrera struggling, it was feeling like the end was near. On May 6, Pujols had a .198 batting average and Cabrera had a .098 batting average.

Phase 3

After getting a day off, Cabrera returned on May 7 and would go 2-for-2 with a couple of walks. From May 7 to May 25, he would get 19 hits in 58 at-bats for a .328 batting average during that span. This raised his batting average for the season up to .210.

On the power side, Cabrera only had 4 home runs through the month of May. He needed 13 home runs during the 2021 season to join the 500 home run club. If he continued to only average 2 home runs per month, he would have ended up one home run short of the milestone at that point. I started to wonder if he had a better shot at getting to 3000 hits before getting to 500 home runs.

Phase 4

From May 26 to May 31, Cabrera had another hitless streak. After going 0-for-17 in those 5 games, his batting average dropped below .200 again, and would bottom out at .184 through the end of May. The good news is the Tigers went 4-1 in those games and swept the Yankees in Detroit. As a team, the Tigers had a winning month of May, with a record of 14-13. This would be the start of Detroit having winning months in June, July and, August (so far) despite having three starting pitchers out with injuries.

Phase 5

Starting on June 1, Cabrera started getting hits consistently. This was a welcome sight as the team was also winning games and playing with energy. Robbie Grossman had a walk-off sac bunt on June 27 that scored Akil Baddoo for the win. This has been a good change of pace from the station-to-station days of eight years ago when Detroit would sometimes need four hits to score a run.

Anyway, Cabrera bumped his batting average up 56 points during June to end the month at .240. While he still had five hitless games during the month, they were not consecutive. He also hit 3 home runs in the month of June to get back on track toward the march to 500. With three months to go in the season, Cabrera would need just 6 home runs to reach the milestone.

While Cabrera was getting hits in the month of July, it took him 26 days to get his first July home run. But starting July 26, Cabrera would show he could still hit for power as he would hit 5 home runs in his next 13 games. He would have his second multi-homer game of the season on July 29 against Baltimore. The other multi-homer game was on May 21 at Kansas City during his hot streak that month.

His 499th home run was hit against Matt Harvey on August 11 at Baltimore. Cabrera would finish the game 3-for-4 and his batting average for the season had moved up to .255. With one more game in Baltimore, A.J. Hinch said Cabrera absolutely would play the following day. But the next day, he had second thoughts. Cabrera was not in the lineup for the final game in Baltimore, in hopes that he would hit the 500th home run in Detroit.

Phase 6

Cabrera would have the next six games at home to get his 500th home run. No pressure!

Starting August 13, Detroit would see some of the biggest crowds they had all season in anticipation of Cabrera’s milestone home run. When Cabrera came to the plate, the crowd would make lots of noise, but when the pitch was about to be thrown, it was eerily quiet. Maybe everyone was looking through the phone, hoping to capture the swing. As hard as Cabrera tried, Cabrera could not get a hit that first night. The next night, he did get a hit, and he drew a walk to help the Tigers win versus Cleveland. Still, no home run. In the rubber game, Detroit was shutout and almost had a perfect game thrown against them. Triston McKenzie was perfect through 7.2 innings before Harold Castro drove a clean single to right field to break up the perfect game and no-hitter. The Tigers would manage just that one hit for the game.

The next team that came to town was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. With the Angels having the top front runner for MVP in the American League in Shohei Ohtani, it was going to be an interesting series. The fact that Ohtani was scheduled to pitch in the series, made it even more interesting. Would Cabrera hit his 500th home run against Ohtani?

The first game, Detroit would lose after the game was close the whole night. Casey Mize threw 4 innings and gave up 2 runs. The bullpen threw 4 shutout innings as the game was tied, 2-2. Gregory Soto had a tough time finishing off hitters in the ninth inning and gave up a grand slam home run to rookie Jo Adell to seal the win for the Angels.

Meanwhile, Cabrera was walked twice in the game without getting a hit, and the stage was now set for Ohtani vs. Cabrera.

As much as we all wanted to see Cabrera get his 500th home run against Ohtani, it was not meant to be. In fact, Ohtani showed all his skills in this game. He would pitch 8 innings and allow just one run, while striking out 8. The 8 innings was his career high as an Angel. He would also hit his 40th home run of the season in this game.

So, after five games, Cabrera just had one more game left at home until they went on the road. In the next game, Cabrera had a single and a double with 4 rbi’s to give Detroit an early lead. They would eventually lose the game and Cabrera would end up 4-for-20 with 3 walks and no home runs on the homestand.

With the excitement over, Detroit would go on the road for the next 5 games. There was still a possibility that Cabrera could hit 500 at home, but you didn’t want it to linger.

Even though Toronto is known for their power hitters, the next few nights, Detroit would have to face some tough pitching. Robbie Ray, who was brought to Detroit in a very unpopular trade in December 2013, has been a very hard hitter to face the last few years.

When Ray was traded for Doug Fister, Tiger fans were not pleased. It was with good reason as Detroit was still trying to win a World Series. Ray was not good in his 9 games he pitched in 2014 for the Tigers and had to be traded again. Meanwhile, Fister had one of his best seasons in 2014 for the Washington Nationals. Who knows how it would have played out if Ray stayed in Detroit, but he is currently leading the AL in strikeouts.

Cabrera looked off balance the first 2 games in Toronto against Ray and Hyun Jin Ryu. He would go hitless these first two games, and would face another tough left hander the next day.

Phase 7

Steven Matz took the mound for Toronto, and was dealing through the first five innings. In the top of the sixth inning, Detroit was behind, 1-0. After Grossman grounded out, Cabrera came to the plate.

It was starting to linger that Cabrera would go the longest between home run 499 and 500 since Alex Rodriguez in 2007.

Rodriguez went 37 plate appearances between his 499th home run and his 500th home run. He hit number 499 on July 25, and number 500 on August 4 in the 2007 season. As luck would have it, I was in attendance for Rodriguez’s 500th home run at Yankee Stadium. It was the only game I have ever been to in New York. This was a good omen.

Cabrera went 37 plate appearances from August 11 to August 22.

Then this happened:

Cabrera’s home run tied the game at 1-1. After not scoring any runs the day before, it was a much needed run for the team as well. Without that run, the Tigers would not have been able to come back in the 9th to tie the game at 2-2. Detroit would eventually win the game, 5-3 in extra innings.

It just seemed like Cabrera could finally relax now that he doesn’t have to worry about hitting 500 anymore. The next game, Cabrera hit another home run in St. Louis to go 2-for-3 and help the team to another victory. The ball reached the third deck.

With a day game following a night game, A.J. Hinch gave Cabrera a day off the next day. However, the game was close heading into the ninth. Detroit was behind 2-1 with two outs and nobody on base. Cabrera would pinch hit and hit a double down the right field line to give the Tigers a runner in scoring position. Harold Castro would then hit a single to score Cabrera. This was Cabrera’s 1500th run scored as it tied the game.

Even though the Tigers ended up losing the game in the 10th inning, Cabrera seems poised to push for the 3000 hit milestone this season. With 8 more doubles, he will be in very exclusive company in the 500 HR/600 2B/3000 hit club. Henry Aaron and Pujols are the only members of that club.

42 hits in 34 team games may seem a little too much, especially if he gets a few days off to rest.

However, if he gets to 2999 hits at the end of the season, we can hope for another Topps Now card number 1 next year. They open the season in Seattle.

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