Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera and the quest for another Triple Crown

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the season's top sluggers meet beginning Friday night for a three-game series in Baltimore, and it could be the start of a historic summer duel.

It didn't feel right to begin talking about the possibility of Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown before early September last year. Strike that. It didn't feel right talking about anyone winning a Triple Crown, any year. Since Carl Yastrzemski led the American League in batting average, home runs and RBI in 1967, the feat hadn't been accomplished in 45 years. To actually be old enough to say you watched Yastrzemski play that year, you have to be somewhere in the age range of 50 to 55. From time to time the possibility came up. Some player or other would be secure in two jewels of the crown and for a short while within the realm of reaching the third. Yet it was hard to think of more than a handful of times that possibility has extended past the dog days of summer.

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That's why Cabrera's accomplishment meant so much to so many fans last fall. We could talk today about a sabermetric Triple Crown -- total times on base, total bases, the like. We could talk about the pointlessness of the RBI stat. Put Cabrera back with the Marlins and we're not even having this discussion: there just wouldn't be ample opportunity to drive in runs no matter how good he is. We could pat ourselves on the back for living in a more enlightened baseball time. The knowledgeable analyst finds far more success looking beyond those old standbys, the bubble-gum card stats recited by generation after generation of baseball fans. And yet last September, with good reason the baseball world was swept up in the fever. Forty-five years since a player led in batting average, home runs and RBI, and there was Cabrera with a chance to join a small club with doors apparently long barred shut.

He did it, of course, a 2-for-3 day when his Tigers played in (coincidentally) Kansas City Oct. 2 all but ensuring it with the feat official a day later when Mike Trout fell short of perfect. Cabrera hit .330. He slammed 44 home runs. He drove in 139 runs. Maybe that did not make for the most impressive Triple Crown in the sport's history, but bonus points are not given out for aesthetics. The congratulations poured in from Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson, who won it himself in 1966. MLB lauded it and a true crown was later fitted for Cabrera's head.

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller

Baseball had its royalty at last. Long live the king.

* * *

It's May 31. Miguel Cabrera carries an MLB-leading .369 average. He's driven in an MLB-high 59 RBI. Though off the pace recently, Cabrera could credibly be said to be in the running to best Hack Wilson's 191 RBI record set in 1930. A week ago Cabrera hit his sixth home run in four games, temporarily tying the MLB-high in that category as well. There were hardly enough accolades to be spoken and superlatives to be written. Triple Crown fever came early to the baseball world -- how quickly we grew used to the potential of a great batter.

With another win, Cabrera would become the first batter in baseball history to win the Triple Crown in back-to-back years. He would be just the third, joining Ted Williams and Roger Hornsby, to win multiple crowns.

Standing between him and history: Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. Day by day in 2013 he has become the foil. Fittingly, the two meet for a three-game series beginning Friday night in Baltimore. In the past 11 games alone Davis has batted .500, pushing his average from .313 to .353. A two-homer game on Wednesday pushed his lead in the stat to four over Cabrera, who hit one of his own that same night. Even Cabrera's historic pace in RBI cannot entirely be counted as safe. Davis has already reached 50 there, too. The two are tied for total bases, and Davis leads Cabrera by nearly 100 points in slugging average. The more sabermetrically-minded might point out Davis' 25-point lead in wOBA here. Cabrera has been great; Davis has been greater.

It seems likely Cabrera, who has won the past two batting titles and whose hot-hitting can be traced back to the time of the All-Star break last year, will be in the thick of the race for batting average. With a strong lineup around him, Cabrera will almost certainly be leading in RBI during the final month of the season, too. Yet we did not learn our lesson when we began to think about a Triple Crown again so early in the year. That home run thing may be a jewel too many.

Davis threatens to make historic hopes moot before September even begins.

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