Wednesday October 3rd, 2012

Miguel Cabrera is closing in on baseball's first Triple Crown in 45 years. (AP)

Miguel Cabrera heads into the season's final day with the lead in all three Triple Crown categories, and an excellent chance of becoming the first player to complete the sweep since 1967, when the Red Sox' Carl Yastrzemski did so. The feat has been accomplished 15 times in baseball history, two of them in the 19th century and two more before 1920, when RBIs became an official statistic. Since then, just nine men have won the Triple Crown a total of 11 times (Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams repeated the feat). While it's not the supreme measure of offensive prowess that it was once thought to be — on-base percentage and slugging percentage both correlate better with scoring than batting average does, and RBIs are team-dependent — its connection to baseball history is tough to beat considering the names involved. Here are the 20th century winners, all Hall of Famers:

Year Lg Player Team Avg HR RBI
1901 AL Nap Lajoie A's .426 14 125
1909 AL Ty Cobb Tigers .377 9 107
1922 NL Rogers Hornsby Cardinals .401 42 152
1925 NL Rogers Hornsby Cardinals .403 39 143
1933 AL Jimmie Foxx A's .356 48 163
1933 NL Chuck Klein Phillies .368 28 120
1934 AL Lou Gehrig Yankees .363 49 165
1937 NL Joe Medwick Cardinals .374 31 154
1942 AL Ted Williams Red Sox .356 36 137
1947 AL Ted Williams Red Sox .343 32 114
1956 AL Mickey Mantle Yankees .353 52 130
1966 AL Frank Robinson Orioles .316 49 122
1967 AL Carl Yastrzemski Red Sox .326 44 121

With an 11-RBI lead over Josh Hamilton (139-128), Cabrera won't be surpassed in that category, but he is vulnerable on the home run front, leading 44-43 against a player who has three multi-homer games this season (including a record-tying four-homer game on May 8) and seven in his career. The Rangers' slugger has been held in check by the A's this year, hitting three homers to go with a .250/.307/.441 line in 18 games; those homers came against Tommy Milone, Jordan Norberto and Dan Straily; he is 1-for-3 without a homer against the afternoon's starter, A.J. Griffin. Cabrera has delivered a flurry of singles against the Royals this year en route to a .324/.347/.412 line in 17 games; his lone one homer against them came against Bruce Chen on Monday night. He did homer off Monday night's starter, Luis Mendoza, back in 2010. On the batting average front, Cabrera has a seven-point lead (.331-.324) over his top rival for AL MVP honors, Mike Trout. Even if he goes 0-for-4 — he's unlikely to get more than four plate appearances given that the Tigers have already clinched a playoff berth — he would only drop to .32853 (the decimals are important). To surpass him, Trout would need to go 4-for-4, which would push him to .32857; sticking around for another out beyond that would drop him back to .32799. If Cabrera stops at 0-for-3, he'd finish at .32905; to surpass that, or even an 0-for-2 (leaving him at .32958), Trout would need to go 5-for-5 to climb to .32977. A token 0-for-1, or even a sitdown from Cabrera — a possibility given that the Rangers play in the afternoon and the Angels game starts an hour and a half earlier — would require Trout to go 6-for-6, pushing him to .33096 to surpass Cabrera's .33011 (with one at-bat) or .33064 (with none). As for Joe Mauer, who's currently third in the batting average race at .320, the three-time batting champion appears to be cooked going into the Twins' final game against the Blue Jays. A 5-for-5 would take him to .32664, and a 6-for-6 would leave him at .32787.

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