Jayson Stark: Detroit Tigers

David PriceBrad Barr/USA TODAY Sports Price's increased focus on his curveball is part of a quest to make himself a more complete pitcher.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- He has already won a Cy Young award, been the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, and led the league in ERA and strikeouts. But this winter, David Price went searching for a way to get even better.

The place he went hunting? That comfort zone where his curveball used to reside.

As recently as 2012, according to TruMedia, opponents hit .153/.194/.173/.367 against Price's curveball, with 45 strikeouts and zero home runs. But over the last two seasons, Price began to lose his feel for the pitch, allowing nine homers and a .720 OPS that was nearly double the 2012 opponent OPS against his curve. So it's no wonder that, according to Pitch f/x, Price's curveball usage dropped to a career-low 5.6 percent in 2014, down from 11.5 percent the year before.

Now he's aiming to get that pitch back to where it was.

"I know he worked on his curveball over the winter," said Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones. "I feel it's improved. And I know he's really comfortable with it.

"It's something we had talked a little bit about last year," said Jones, who had only two months to work with Price last season after the left-hander was traded from Tampa Bay at the deadline. "And I think David knew he wanted to use his curveball more. He didn't use it as much last year as he had in the past. So I know he wanted to work on it. I've seen him throw a few this spring, and it's really good."

Price tried to fix the curve by altering his grip slightly. And so far at least, it's given him the ability not just to command it but to throw it at varying speeds -- which fits right into Price's larger quest to make himself a more complete pitcher. Other than his curveball issues, he says he felt as if he made his biggest strides yet in that department last season, even though his fastball velocity slipped from 95.5 miles per hour in 2012 to 93.3, according to Pitch f/x.

“I was fine with the way I threw the ball last year," Price said. "I felt like I turned into more of a pitcher. And I feel like I had taken those steps in 2011, '12, '13. I feel like every year I've progressed, in being a better pitcher. Not saying I was just a thrower before. But I definitely got it.

"I understood it when I was out there on the mound, what I needed to do: attacking different hitters and changing speeds, being able to do stuff that way. Trying to get that ground ball when I needed that ground ball. And just understanding different situations on the mound. I feel like I've taken big steps in all those categories. And it makes pitching so much easier."

Price actually got off to the slowest start of his career last year, and had an ERA as high as 4.42 in the last week of May. But in his final 11 starts before the Rays traded him, he went 7-4 with a 1.98 ERA, 99 strikeouts and just 67 hits allowed in 86.1 innings.

“That stretch I had last year was the easiest pitching had ever come to me," he said. "I felt like it was the most dominant I had ever been on the mound. I wasn't throwing 95, 96, 97 [mph] like I was in 2012. But I learned how to pitch. And that's something everybody is going to go through in their career. Nobody is going to stay that flamethrower for the duration of their career. If they do, they won't have a very long career. So I feel like that was a very good period for me to go through, to make sure I could adjust on the fly."

And now, as Price heads into his first full season as a Tiger (and last before he hits free agency), he's trying to adjust yet again.

"That's a quality of the great pitchers," Jones said. "They're never complacent with what they have. They're always trying to get better. And I think David definitely falls in that category. I know time will tell, but I think David's going to have a great year."

The past couple of days have reminded me of something I'd almost forgotten. There is life after A-Rod-Palooza.

There is a great baseball season going on out there, friends. So let's stop talking about that third baseman for the Yankees and start focusing on all the fabulous baseball stories that are roaring toward their dramatic conclusion.

And what stories do I have in mind? How about these Five Stories I'll Be Watching (Instead of That Guy):

[+] EnlargeStarling Marte, Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesIt's hard not to get excited about the Pirates.

1. The Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to finish with a winning record, ladies and gentlemen. I have never felt more confident about saying that.

They are not going to have 10 pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery in the next 20 minutes. They are not going to lose 37 of their next 48 games. They are not going to reenact August and September of 2012, or August and September of 2011.

They're too good. They have the fourth-best run differential in the National League (plus-60). They've allowed the fewest runs in the major leagues (just 385) -- something they haven't accomplished over a full season since 1984. And opponents are hitting a ridiculous .229 against their pitching staff -- which would be the lowest average against any National League staff since Jim Deshaies' 1986 Astros.

I can't tell you these Pirates are going to win the World Series. I can't tell you they'll win any kind of postseason series. But they're still the best story in the major leagues. So let's just enjoy this ride. OK?

2. The races

The NL East race is over. The AL Central race feels like it's in guarded, but unstable, condition. And over in the NL West, the Dodgers have gained 14 .5 games in the standings on Arizona just in the past seven weeks. So we can see where that one is headed.

But the NL Central is shaping up as a must-see duel between the best offense in the National League (the Cardinals) and the best pitching staff (the Pirates) -- with nine riveting games left between these two teams. Sign me up for that.

And how about the AL West, where the Rangers just made a six-game Oakland lead disappear in a span of nine days. Those teams have two series left against each other. But the schedule, in general, favors Texas, which has the easiest remaining schedule of any AL contender, including 10 games left against their good friends from across the state, the Astros.

And then there's that AL East race, which has a chance to be the best of them all.

The Red Sox just became the first AL team to reach 70 wins -- and did it following a year where they didn't win 70 games all season. Think about that. Elias tells us they're the first AL team to pull off that trick (not counting strike-shortened seasons) since Harlond Clift's 1945 Senators, and (because those Senators got to 70 on the same day as the Tigers) the first to do it outright since George Herman Ruth's 1926 Yankees.

But then there are the Rays, owners of the best record in the whole sport over the past 81 games and a team so hot they just lost their first series in seven weeks. So pick against them at your peril.

And I'm not ready to write off the Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs and slugging, upgraded their pitching before the deadline and are currently on pace to become the first team in history to commit fewer than 50 errors in a 162-game season. (Heck, no one else in the expansion era has even finished a season with fewer than 60.) The Orioles have 16 games left against Boston and Tampa Bay. So stay tuned.

3. The awards

NL MVP: Yadier Molina was our midseason pick, but his knee issues are about to sabotage his MVP campaign. So are we ready for a starting pitcher (i.e., Clayton Kershaw) to win this thing? Do guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto have MVP finishes in them? And don't look now, but here comes Andrew McCutchen, whose credentials include this nugget: He, Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez are the only players in their league to rank in the top 10 in both stolen bases and slugging.

AL MVP: Uh-oh. Here we go again. If you enjoyed that vintage, old-school/new-school Miguel Cabrera-versus-Mike Trout debate last year, get ready for Round 2. As Jared Cross wrote the other day, Trout has injected himself into what once looked like a Cabrera-Chris Davis MVP conversation by charging up those AL leaderboards. But if this keeps up, some great sabermetric minds are going to have to explain to the masses how it's possible that Trout leads Cabrera in offensive wins above replacement, but is trailing Cabrera overall because of (gulp) Cabrera's defense. Incredible, huh? But let's save that issue for another day.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez can tell you all about how Cy Young voters have finally learned to de-emphasize wins. But let's see them try to factor out wins this year, when King Felix is leading the league in ERA but trying to make his case against a guy who is 16-1 (Max Scherzer) -- and first in his league in WHIP, lowest opponent average and lowest opponent OPS. Can't wait for that debate.

NL Cy Young: With all due respect for the awesome seasons of Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Patrick Corbin, Francisco Liriano, Craig Kimbrel, etc., all Kershaw does every five days is remind us that he's the best pitcher in baseball. Still. Just so you know, if Kershaw can finish with the ERA (1.91), WHIP (0.88) and opponent average (.188) he has now, the only pitchers in the live-ball era who have ever been in that neighborhood (or better) over a full season are Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax and Luis Tiant. Whoever they are.

Rookies of the Year: In the AL, Jose Iglesias has a shot to become the first rookie of the year ever to get traded in midseason. But Wil Myers can screw up that claim to fame. And in the NL, this remains one of the wildest rookie-of-the-year free-for-alls ever, with Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Evan Gattis and Yasiel Puig all making cases for themselves that are going to require many, many Advil for the ROY electorate.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Al Bello/Getty ImagesIchiro Suzuki is about to enter some rarefied air.

4. The 4,000-hit man

The folks obsessed with a certain troubled third baseman may differ. But in my neighborhood, the most interesting story in Yankees Land this month revolves around a man who is chasing a number very few living humans have ever seen chased.

That man is Ichiro Suzuki. That number is 4,000.

And no, that isn't how many reporters from his homeland follow Ichiro around every day. It's the number of hits he's about to have on his permanent record if we count the 1,278 hits he spewed in his nine seasons in Japan.

At the moment, he finds himself just 11 hits away. And I hope you don't let that milestone go whooshing by you too quickly before you stop to think about what it means.

The last time we witnessed anyone getting his 4,000th hit was April 13, 1984, when Pete Rose collected No. 4,000 off Jerry Koosman, in a stadium we no longer find on the baseball map (the late, great Stade Olympique in Montreal).

Just for perspective's sake, the Hit King got that 4,000th hit in his 3,259th game. That's nearly 200 more than Ichiro has played (3,075) on both sides of the Pacific. Which means he's going to beat Rose to No. 4,000 by more than a full season. Wow.

The only other 4,000th hit ever? Ty Cobb got that one -- on July 18, 1927. So if you weren't hanging out at old Nevin Field in Detroit that day 86 years ago, you've never seen any American Leaguer do what Ichiro is about to do. Pretty mind-boggling feat -- on any continent.

5. History majors

Finally, here's just a taste of some of the historic pursuits you can keep your eye on over the next two months:

Chris Davis: On pace for 58 home runs, 102 extra-base hits, 151 RBIs and 72 more extra-base hits than singles. There has never been a season like it.

Mike Trout: He's leading the American League in walks. He's tied for the league lead in hits. And if he can wind up leading in both categories, he'd be only the fifth player since 1900 to do that in the same season. The others: Rogers Hornsby, Richie Ashburn, Carl Yastrzemski and Lenny Dykstra.

Joey Votto: See that note above? How unreal would it be if two men finished first in their league in hits and walks in the same season? Well, Votto has a shot, too. He has a big lead in walks. He's three behind Jean Segura for the lead in hits. And Votto and Shin-Soo Choo have an outside chance to become the second set of NL teammates ever to reach base 300 times apiece (via hit, walk and HBP) in the same season. The other: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, for the 1997 Astros.

Miguel Cabrera: And then there's Miggy. He might not win the Triple Crown for a second straight year. But if he can stay healthy enough to get on the field regularly, Cabrera still has a chance to do something no Triple Crown winner has ever done -- hit that trifecta one year and then have a better season the next year.

Here are Cabrera's numbers from last season, and his projected numbers for this season. This is truly amazing:

2012: .330/.383/.606, 44 homers and 139 RBIs

2013: .359/.453/.668, 48 homers and 148 RBIs

I chronicled this a few months ago, but here it is again just to help you digest this man's greatness: Only one Triple Crown winner in history (Ted Williams) ever drove in more runs the following year. Just two (Williams and Mickey Mantle) had a better batting average the next season. And none of them hit more home runs The Season After. But this guy could do all of the above.

So once again, we find ourselves drawn to the flat screen every time Miguel Cabrera starts marching toward home plate. And that beats watching A-Rod-Palooza every day of every week. Don't you think?

When you're already The Best There Is, how is it possible to get even better?

That's the question we should be asking ourselves about Miguel Cabrera: How? Exactly how is this possible?

What he's in the process of doing these days has never been done. Never.

Win a Triple Crown one year. … Have a better year the next? Who does that?

I can tell you the answer: No one does that.

Only him.

Here are Cabrera's numbers from last season, stacked up against his projected numbers for this season. They're ridiculous just to look at:
  • 2012: .330/.383/.606/44 HRs/139 RBIs
  • 2013: .385/.459/.682/48 HRs/196 RBIs
[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter
AP Photo/Tony DejakEntering play Saturday, Miguel Cabrera leads the majors in batting (.388) and RBIs (57). His 14 home runs rank second in the AL.
He's on a path to take a mammoth jump in every category? Really?

A 55-point leap in batting average? More than 150 points in OPS? And nearly 60 more RBIs? This is incredible.

Not to mention without any precedent whatsoever.

I took a look this week at everyone in history who ever won a Triple Crown. You'd think somebody -- Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, somebody -- would have had a season the next year in which he had better numbers, even if he didn't do that three-peat thing again. Right?

Nope. Nobody.

There were 11 other "official" Triple Crown seasons to look at (dating back to 1920, when RBIs became an "official" statistic). But there were only 10 "next years" to study because Ted Williams went off to war after hitting that trifecta in 1942.

So, how did those 10 previous Triple Crown winners fare when they tried to figure out what to do for an encore the next season? Here's what I found:

• Their batting averages dropped by an average of 28 points. They hit 16 fewer home runs on average. They drove in 36 fewer runs apiece. So no wonder nobody has ever won Triple Crowns back to back.

None of those 10 hit more home runs the next year. Right, none of them. Jimmie Foxx came the closest (hitting 48 in 1933 and 44 the next year). All but two of the others had double-digit drops of anywhere from 10 to 28. … And Miguel Cabrera is on pace to go from 44 to 49.

• Only one previous Triple Crown winner drove in more runs the next season. That was -- who else? -- Ted Williams (114 RBIs in 1947, 127 in '48). All but one of the others plummeted by at least 30 RBIs the next year. Yessir, 30. … And Miguel Cabrera is on pace to go from 139 to 201.

• And just two in that group had a higher batting average the next season. One was Williams in '47-48, who went from .343 to .369. Hey, of course he did. The other was Mantle in 1956-57 (from .353 to .365). All the others plunged by between 15 and 86 points. … And Miguel Cabrera has gone from .330 to .388. Wow.

• No Triple Crown winner came back to lead his league in homers the next year. Only one (Joe Medwick) led his league the next season in RBIs. And there were just three back-to-back batting champs in this crowd (Rogers Hornsby in 1922-23, Williams in '47-48 and Carl Yastrzemski in '67-68). But no one led in more than one of those categories the next year.

• Even if we venture beyond the Triple Crown categories, no player in the group increased his slash line across the board the next season. Not a one. Only if we include Ty Cobb's "unofficial" Triple Crown in 1909 (before RBIs were a recognized stat) can we say that any Triple Crown winner ever did that.

• But even if we include the two "unofficial" Triple Crown kings since 1900 -- Cobb and Nap Lajoie (1901) -- we still find zero players who had a better year in all three Triple Crown categories the next season than they had in their Triple Crown seasons. Not Cobb or Lajoie or Hornsby or Foxx or anyone else. Zero.

Until Miguel Cabrera came along and put himself in position to do the unimaginable.

He's a long way from pulling this off, obviously. But would you bet against him? Would you seriously believe there's anything he can't do with a bat in his hands? Based on what? His horoscope? The man is a genius. An offensive genius.

And this, says a fellow who has known him for 15 years, is his moment in time. This is that moment when everything converges. Right man. Right team. Right place. Right forces in the universe.

Tigers assistant GM Al Avila looks at Cabrera, whom he scouted as a teenager, and sees a guy "in the prime of his career, playing on a very good club that is totally focused on getting back to the World Series." And this, Avila says, feels like pretty much the perfect place for this player, on the field and off.

"I believe Miguel, at this point in his life, has reached a maturity level that has him at peace with himself, his family and with his responsibility and role with this club," Avila says. "Miguel has always had the physical ability and the baseball savvy, and now he has the mental maturity and stability to take charge of his future.

"If he stays healthy and focused," Avila says, "he will continue to accomplish great things. The youngster has turned into a man."

And the man is rising above the offensively challenged masses in his sport to make the impossible look possible. And you know what's most impossible of all?

When you're already The Best There Is -- and then you keep on getting better.

Strike One: Tigers TrifeKta

When was the last time any team had a threesome atop its rotation like the K Klub the Detroit Tigers run out there these days?

There's the Ace (Justin Verlander). He owns three strikeout titles just since the start of the 2009 season. He's also whiffed more hitters over the last seven seasons (1,356) than any pitcher alive.

Anibal Sanchez


Max Scherzer


Justin Verlander


Then there's Max Scherzer. Last year he became the fourth qualifying starting pitcher in American League history to strike out more than 11 hitters per nine innings over a full season. Maybe you've heard of the others: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

So we start with those two -- the most prodigious 1-2 whiff-a-matic duo in baseball. Which leads to this momentous question:

What were the odds that a Tigers pitcher would go out this season and set an all-time franchise record for most strikeouts in one game -- and it WOULDN'T be Verlander or Scherzer?

Well, it happened Friday night, when Anibal Sanchez headed for the mound and punched out 17 Atlanta Braves in eight innings. Wow.

So what we have here is a rotation in which all three of those men are striking out more than a batter an inning this season:

Sanchez: 41 K's in 33.2 IP

Scherzer: 36 K's in 24 IP

Verlander: 33 K's in 32.1 IP

Amazing. But here's the most amazing part of all:

You know how many rotations in history have had three different starters pile up more than a strikeout an inning in a season in which all three qualified for the ERA title?

None. That's how many.

But wait. There's more. Other than last year's Tigers, no American League team in the entire division-play era has even had TWO qualifying starters who finished a season with more strikeouts than innings. Let alone three.

In fact, only two other AL teams in history have had two different starters who did that together in the same season:

1968 Indians: Sam McDowell (9.5 per 9 IP), Luis Tiant (9.2)

1965 Indians: Sam McDowell (10.7), Sonny Siebert (9.1)

Now obviously, there's a long, long way to go. But all three of these men have done this before. They just never had a chance to do it for the same team at the same time. And if they keep up this rate, we'll have some incredible strikeout history on our hands.

Unfortunately, for all the poor hitters out there.

Strike Two: Not So Special K's

Then there's the team that was on the other end of that 17-whiff masterpiece -- the Braves.

They keep telling us that strikeouts are overrated. And maybe they're right. We just know this:

[+] EnlargeDan Uggla
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsDan Uggla has struck out 31 times in 22 games so far this season.
They're on pace to strike out 1,512 times this year. While that wouldn't be a record -- thanks to the 2010 Diamondbacks, who punched out 1,529 times -- you should remember that no other team in history has ever struck out even 1,400 times.

But here's the other pace the Braves are on which WOULD be historic:

Projected strikeouts this season at this rate: 1,512

Projected hits this season at this rate: 1,316

That comes to an incredible 196 more strikeouts than hits. And no team in history has ever had a strikeout/hits ratio that was that out of whack. Here's that leaderboard:

163: 2010 Diamondbacks (1,529 K's, 1,366 hits)

89: 2012 Astros (1,365 K's, 1,276 hits)

72: 2012 A's (1,387 K's, 1,315 hits)

42: 2011 Padres (1,326 K's, 1,284 hits)

41: 2012 Pirates (1,354 K's, 1,313 hits)

Of course, if you peruse that list closely, you'll notice something. All of those teams have joined that More Strikeouts Than Hits Club just since 2010. And that's not an aberration. Of the nine teams in history that did more whiffing than hitting, only one (the 2001 Brewers) did it BEFORE 2010.

So strikeouts -- and lots of them -- are clearly a more prevalent, and accepted, part of the game than they've ever been. But only one team (last year's A's) has ever made the postseason in a year in which its hitters had more strikeouts than hits. And that 2010 Diamondbacks team at the top of that list lost 97 games.

It's very possible none of that past history applies to these Braves, who are clearly one of the most talented teams in the game and still lead the major leagues in home runs. But even if strikeouts are indeed overrated -- especially if you hit enough homers and score enough runs -- we don't know yet exactly how overrated they are.

But the 2013 Braves look like a team that could spend the next five months helping us figure it out.

Strike Three: In Other News …

• Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give the Tigers three starters who have all struck out at least 14 hitters in a game. The only other rotation in the big leagues that can make that claim: the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels).

• But all three of those Tigers pitchers have whiffed at least 14 in a game more than once. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four rotations in the last 20 seasons had three starters who fit that description. And it had been 12 years since we'd seen any rotation like that -- since the 2001 Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Bobby Witt) and 2001 Red Sox (Pedro Martinez, Hideo Nomo, David Cone).

• The Dodgers haven't struck out 17 times in a nine-inning game in the history of their franchise -- all 130 seasons worth. And three other teams -- the Royals, White Sox and Twins -- haven't struck out 17 times in any game in this millennium. But the Braves struck out 17 times in eight innings against Anibal Sanchez. And then added an 18th whiff in the ninth against reliever Bruce Rondon.

Bryce Harper hit his ninth homer Saturday. He's the first player, 20 or younger, ever to hit nine home runs in April. If he makes a home run trot in any of the next two games, he'll become the fifth player in history to hit 10 home runs in any calendar month, at age 20 or younger. The others, according to Baseball-Reference.com's awesome Play Index: Willie Mays (10, in July 1951), Frank Robinson (11, in August 1956), Met Ott (11, in June 1929) and someone named Mike Trout (10, last July).

• Finally, we keep hearing that David Ortiz has a 20-game hitting streak going back to last season. What's much more notable is that he also has a 301-DAY hitting streak. Ortiz's streak dates all the way back to last July 2. And our favorite hit-streak guru, Trent McCotter, reports that, as best he can determine, that's the second-longest 20-game streak -- in days -- since 1900.

The longest: 323 days, by Nomar Garciaparra in 2000-01. He got a hit in his last 20 games in 2000, then needed wrist surgery the next spring and didn't get a chance to pick up his streak until the following July 29, when he extended it to 21 games in a row before it expired the next game.

Longest known hitting streak before 1900 (in days): 645 days, by Dick Higham from 1876 to '78. But the asterisk is that he spent all of 1877 with the Syracuse Stars of the International Association, which wasn't recognized as a "major" league. So technically, he had a 29-game hitting streak that was stretched out over nearly three years. Boy, it's always something, huh?

Do we take greatness for granted? Sometimes, I think we do. Here are three men in this game who are so good, we need to stop and appreciate what we're watching -- especially because two of them are birthday boys:

Strike one: Miggy turns 30

Miguel Cabrera will celebrate birthday No. 30 on Thursday, as my friend, John Lowe, of the Detroit Free Press, reminds us. Wow. 'Bout time, huh?

I know the guy has won an MVP award, already racked up six top-five MVP finishes, made seven All-Star teams and won a Triple Crown. But has it really sunk in, for most of us, how incredible a hitter Miguel Cabrera has been at such a young age?

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonMiguel Cabrera is going for a third consecutive AL batting title.

John Lowe compares Miggy to Hank Aaron at the same age. Excellent company. But here's what's even more special:

Very, very, very few hitters who ever lived are in that company.

You want the complete list of hitters who had 300-plus homers and a slash line as good as Cabrera's (.318/.395/.560) on the day they exited their 20s? Here it comes:

• Jimmie Foxx .334/.434/.628/379 HR

Albert Pujols .334/.427/.628/366 HR

And that's it. That's the entire list.

Aaron (thanks to a .375 OBP) was actually a just-miss. So were Mel Ott (.315 AVG), Vlad Guerrero (.390 OBP) and some dude named Babe Ruth (284 HR). Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez were just beyond that pack. But you get the idea.

We're not just talking about good players. Or very good players. We're talking about iconic players. And Miguel Cabrera is one of them. More on Miggy:

• He's one of only 11 players who ever lived who hit this many homers before turning 30. The others: A-Rod, Ken Griffey Jr., Foxx, Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Pujols, Ott, Aaron and (of course) Andruw Jones.

• His 725 extra-base hits are the eighth most all time before age 30. The seven players ahead of him: A-Rod, Foxx, Griffey, Aaron, Pujols, Ott and Lou Gehrig.

• He's one of just six men in history with 1,800 hits and an average this high on the day he turned 30. The others: Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Aaron, Foxx and Joe Medwick.

• And he's one of only five players in history with 1,800 hits and an OPS this high (.955) on the day he turned 30. The others: Ott, Hornsby, A-Rod and Foxx.

I don't know where Miguel Cabrera is headed in his 30s and beyond. But if he's headed for statistical plateaus anywhere near where the other men on those lists wound up, we know one place he's headed:

Cooperstown, N.Y.

Strike two: Mauer power

Speaking of birthday boys ... somewhere along the line, Joe Mauer (who turns 30 on Friday) seems like a guy who has mysteriously faded off most people's radar screens -- or, at least, off their list of the best hitters alive.

But he's reminding us these days that if you're one of those folks who decided he was a bust, based on one sub-Mauer-esque season at Target Field a couple of years back, it's time to take another look.

Joe Mauer


The Twins' sweet-swinging catcher has just finished ripping off back-to-back four-hit games this week. Here's some stuff you might want to know about that -- and about him:

• Only 10 other catchers in the past 75 years have had back-to-back four-hit games. Just 18 other catchers have done it in the live ball era. Here's the difference between Joe Mauer and all the rest of them: He's the only one who has done that twice. (He also did it on June 26-27, 2006.)

• Among the catchers who never had back-to-back four-hit games: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Bill Dickey, Gary Carter, Gabby Hartnett or Mickey Cochrane. All but Piazza are Hall of Famers, by the way.

• Mauer hasn't played a single game in his 30s yet. But he already has more games (19) with four hits or more in his young career than Bench (12), Berra (14), Carlton Fisk (14), Jorge Posada (17) and all but eight catchers in the live ball era had in their entire careers.

• Just for future reference, in case Mauer can get four more hits Friday, you should know that only one American Leaguer in the past 60 seasons has ripped off three straight games with four or more hits. That was Tim Salmon, on May 10-13, 1994.

• Oh, and one more thing. Just to remind you of what an aberration Mauer's 2011 season was, since Opening Day 2012, he leads the American League (and, for that matter, all hitters not named Joey Votto) in on-base percentage (.416). And the only AL hitter with a higher batting average than him (.326) in that span is -- who else? -- Miguel Cabrera (.329).

So it's safe to say Joe Mauer didn't just remember how to hit again on Monday at 7 p.m. Recalibrate your radar screens. OK?

Strike three: K for Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw struck out the 1,000th hitter of his career Wednesday night. He's 25 years old. He's younger than Colin Kaepernick, friends. Heck, he's younger than Snooki.

So how rare is it to reach 1,000 whiffs this fast? This rare:

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
AP Photo/Reed SaxonClayton Kershaw has topped 200 strikeouts in each of the past three seasons.
• Only 15 other pitchers in the history of baseball got to 1,000 strikeouts before they celebrated their 26th birthday. Just one of them is an active pitcher. That would be Felix Hernandez.

• Besides those two, just four others have reached 1,000 K's that young in the division-play era: Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, Bert Blyleven and Frank Tanana. Fun list.

• But now here's where this gets good: Of all the pitchers in history who reached 1,000 punchouts by age 25, only one did it in fewer trips to the mound than Kershaw (155). That was Gooden, who made it in only 145 appearances.

• And now, finally, let's take age out of this equation. In the history of baseball, just six pitchers have ever reached 1,000 strikeouts in fewer games than Clayton Kershaw. It's an excellent group:

Kerry Wood, Tim Lincecum, Roger Clemens, Gooden, Hideo Nomo and Randy Johnson.

That would mean, of course, that Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Bob Feller, Walter Johnson and, well, pretty much the entire rest of the planet didn't rack up those whiffs the way Clayton Kershaw has, right out of the gate in his young career.

So does this guy's last name start with the right letter, or what?

Postseason/tiebreaker scenarios

October, 3, 2012

So here we sit, on the morning of the last day of the baseball season. And other than one game (Cardinals at Braves on Friday), we have no idea who is playing whom in any postseason series.

But it's not as complicated as it seems. Really. It all depends on what happens on the field Wednesday. So let's run through the various scenarios:

If the Yankees lose and the Orioles win

Then the AL East is tied (at 94-68), and the Yankees and Orioles have to play a tiebreaker game Thursday in Baltimore. The winner is the AL East champ. The loser is the wild-card team. But is it the "first" wild card or the "second" wild card? That depends on what happens in Oakland.

If the A's beat the Rangers

Then Oakland (94-68) wins the AL West, and Texas (93-69) is a wild-card team. But would the Rangers be the "first" wild card or the "second" wild card? That depends on what happens in the AL East:

  • If the Yankees and Orioles both win Wednesday, the Orioles (94-68) would host the Rangers (93-69) in the wild-card game Friday. Why? Because a Baltimore win Wednesday would give the Orioles the better record.
  • If the Orioles lose Wednesday and finish with the same record as Texas (93-69), the Rangers would host the wild-card game Friday because they won the season series from Baltimore.
  • If the Rangers lose and there's a tie for the AL East (at 94-68), the AL East loser hosts the Rangers in the wild-card game because either still would have more wins (94) than Texas (93).

If the Rangers beat the A's

Then the Rangers (94-68) win the AL West, and Oakland (93-67) is a wild card. But is it the "first" wild card or "second" wild card? Again, that depends on developments in the AL East.

  • If the Yankees and Orioles both win Wednesday, the Orioles would host the A's in the wild-card game because Baltimore would have one more regular-season win (94) than Oakland (93).
  • If the Yankees lose, the Orioles win, there's a tie for the AL East and Oakland loses to Texas, the loser of the AL East tiebreaker game hosts the A's. Again, the reason: The AL East loser still would have more wins (94) than Oakland (93).
  • If the Yankees, Orioles and A's all lose Wednesday, the Orioles and A's would finish with the same record (93-69). If that happens, the A's host the wild-card game Friday. Why? Because they won the season series.
  • Who's No. 1 in the AL?

    If the Yankees win Wednesday:

    Then this is simple. They're the No. 1 seed in the AL. So their first Division Series game is Sunday at the winner of the wild-card game.

    The AL West winner then would head for Detroit to start its Division Series on Saturday.

    If there's a Yankees-Orioles tie:

    This gets trickier. Then there's a three-way tie for the best record in the AL (Yankees, Orioles and the AL West champ, all at 94-68).

    Under that scenario, the AL East tiebreaker game would not be used to determine seeding, even though it is otherwise considered a regular-season game. So how would that seeding be sorted out? Here's the breakdown:

    • Yankees win the AL East, Rangers win the AL West: Yankees are the No. 1 seed and play the wild-card winner. Rangers are the No. 2 seed and play at Detroit. Why? Yankees won the season series.
    • Yankees win the AL East, A's win the AL West: A's are the No. 1 seed and play the wild-card survivor. Yankees are the No. 2 seed and face Detroit. Why? Yankees and A's split the season series, but A's had the better record in division games.
    • Orioles win the AL East, Rangers win the AL West: Rangers are the No. 1 seed and draw the wild-card winner. Orioles are the No. 2 seed and play Detroit. Why? Rangers won the season series.
    • Orioles win the AL East, A's win the AL West: A's are the No. 1 seed. Orioles are the No. 2 seed. Same LDS matchups. Why? Orioles won the season series.

    If the Yankees and the Orioles both lose Wednesday

    Then there's a tie for the best record between the Yankees and the AL West champ (at 93-69).

    Under that scenario, the Yankees are the No. 1 seed if the Rangers win the West -- but the No. 2 seed if the A's win the West. Why? See the tiebreaker scenarios above.

    Who's No. 1 in the NL?

    The Reds and Nationals head into their games Wednesday with the same record (97-64). So ...

    If the Reds win and the Nationals lose

    Then the Reds are the No. 1 seed and play Sunday at the home of the wild-card survivor. And the Nationals are the No. 2 seed and play Saturday in San Francisco.

    If the Nationals win and the Reds lose

    Then the Nationals are the No. 1 seed and visit the wild-card winner Sunday. And the Reds are the No. 2 seed and start their Division Series on Saturday in San Francisco.

    If the Nationals and Reds finish tied

    Then the Nationals are the No. 1 seed. And the Reds are the No. 2 seed. (Same matchups as the Nationals win/Reds lose scenario above.) Why? Nationals won the season series.

    It sounds insane. But it could have been worse, if Raul Ibanez hadn't hit that home run Tuesday to bring the Yankees back from the dead.

    That would have created a nightmare scenario in which the Orioles, Yankees and the AL West loser could have finished in a three-way tie (at 93-69) -- forcing one of those teams to fly 2,500 miles, across three time zones, Thursday night to play the wild-card game Friday. But the good news is, that's one crazy possibility that's now officially defunct. Phew.

    Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown chase

    September, 19, 2012
    PM ET

    Not to suggest it's been a while since anybody won a Triple Crown, but the last time it happened (1967) a gallon of gas cost 33 cents ... the average salary of a big league baseball player was $10,000 ... and the Internet was so slow, it was almost like it didn't even exist. Heh-heh. Almost.

    But now along comes Miguel Cabrera to threaten to force people to learn how to spell Yastrzemski again. And that's a beautiful thing. But as this edition of the September History Watch is about to report, there's all kinds of history out there for Cabrera to make, even if he doesn't win the Triple Crown:

    First off, let's give you a clear picture of how special this is, to find a man making this serious run at the Triple Crown with a mere two weeks left in the season.

    [+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
    Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMiguel Cabrera hit home runs No. 39 and 40 Tuesday night against Oakland.
    Cabera leads the league in batting average. And leads the league in RBIs. And is second in his league in home runs (40), just two back of Josh Hamilton. Well, friends, that's more astonishing than you might think.

    This is Year 45 A.Y. (After Yastrzemski). And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in any of those seasons that any player has reached the final two weeks of the season, and was leading his league in batting and RBIs, and within two of the lead in homers.

    Think of all the great hitters who have roamed the baseball earth in all those years: George Brett, Johnny Bench, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt,. Kenneth Griffey Jr. and many more. None of them ever made this kind of run at a Triple Crown. But now Miguel Cabrera has. So he's already on historic turf.

    • And now another tidbit that astounded us September History Watchers. Suppose Cabrera wins two-thirds of the Triple Crown but winds up second in home runs. That would seem like a disappointment, but maybe not after you hear this:

    Would you believe that we're closing in on nearly a half-century since anyone won a Triple Crown, and nobody has had a season since in which he won two legs of this trifecta and finished second in the third category? That word, again, was "nobody." In fact, we've only had two third-place finishes by players who led in the other two:

      Jim Rice 1978 (led in HRs and RBIs, third in batting race)

      Matt Kemp 2011 (led in HRs and RBIs, third in batting race)

    • And now another incredible feat on Cabrera's plate: He leads the league in batting and RBIs. Plus, he has already hit 40 homers. Would you believe that, in the history of baseball, only two men have ever done that without winning a Triple Crown? Here they are:

      Jimmie Foxx 1938 (hit 50 HRs, eight behind Hank Greenberg)

      Todd Helton 2000 (hit 42 HRs, eight behind Sammy Sosa)

    • Speaking of Foxx, he's had his own unique Double Crown all to himself for more than 70 years, only to find himself in danger of having Cabrera crash his party. Amazingly, in the live ball era, Foxx is the only man ever to lead the American League in batting and RBIs but not win a Triple Crown. So even if Cabrera can't catch Hamilton in the home run race, if he leads the league in the other two categories, he'll still have done something cool and historic.

    • Over in the NL, for some reason, that particular Double Crown (batting and RBI titles) hasn't been quite as rare. But it's still been done just six times in the past 85 years:

      Stan Musial 1948

      Tommy Davis 1962

      Joe Torre 1971

      Al Oliver 1982

      Helton 2000

      Matt Holliday 2007

    Of that group, only one man had a real shot at a Triple Crown in the last two weeks of the season. And that was the great Stan Musial, in 1948.

    Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize tied for the league lead in homers that year, with 40. Musial was sitting on 38 home runs with nine games left in the season but hit only one more and finished one behind them.

    • Hold on. It gets better. Other than Musial, only one other player in the live ball era managed to lead his league in batting and RBIs and wind up as close to the league lead in home runs as Cabrera is now (two or closer). This man:

    The immortal Rogers Hornsby in 1921 -- hit 21 homers and finished second in the league, two behind the eloquently nicknamed George (High Pockets) Kelly.

    • Triple Crowns aside, Cabrera has a shot at a few other feats that got the September History Watch's attention. For one thing, he's on the verge of becoming a back-to-back batting champ.

    The only other active player who can make that claim: Joe Mauer (2008-09).

    The only other Tiger who has ever done that: Some dude named Ty Cobb, whoever he is (did it eight times).

    • Back-to-back or not, just being a two-time batting champ is a rarity here in the post-Gwynn-and-Boggs era. The only two active players who have won a batting title more than once at any point: Mauer and Ichiro Suzuki (2001, 2004).

    • Finally, even if Cabrera doesn't win the Triple Crown, he's already one of only three active players who have led their league in all three Triple Crown categories at some point in their careers -- just not in the same year. The others:

      Albert Pujols (batting title '03, HR title '09-10, RBI title '10)

      Alex Rodriguez (batting title '96, HR title '01-03, '05, '07, RBI title '02, '07)

    By the way, if Josh Hamilton leads the league in homers, he'd also join this list. But enough about him. This is supposed to be a Miguel Cabrera edition of the September History Watch. And as you've noticed, there's more than enough historic stuff on his agenda to keep us History Watchers busy without dragging anyone else into this opus.

    Chris Davis


    1 On Monday, Chris Davis homered against the Red Sox. Fifteen days earlier, he had been the winning pitcher in a game against the Red Sox. That made him just the second position player since World War II to hit a home run AND win a game on the mound against the same team in the same year. The other: Rocky Colavito, who beat the Tigers as a pitcher in the first game of an Aug. 25, 1968, doubleheader, then homered against them in Game 2.

    When Dan Haren ripped off his first-ever 14-strikeout game Thursday, it made him and Jered Weaver the fourth set of current teammates who have each struck out at least 14 in a game. (Weaver whiffed 15 Blue Jays in April, 2011.) One of those sets, not so shockingly, is Max Scherzer (who just punched out 15 Pirates last Sunday) and Justin Verlander (14) of the Tigers. Another is the Pirates' Erik Bedard (15) and A.J. Burnett (14) -- although neither did it as a Pirate. The other set consists of three Phillies starters (Cliff Lee 16, Cole Hamels 15, Roy Halladay 14). But other than Haren and Weaver, only Scherzer/Verlander and Lee/Halladay pulled this off WHILE they were teammates.

    Jamie Moyer


    3 Jamie Moyer Note of the Week -- Part 1: The legendary Baltimore baseball writer Jim Henneman checked in to report that when Giancarlo Stanton whomped a mammoth grand slam off Moyer on Monday in Miami, it was the 43rd park in which Moyer had allowed a gopherball. Not surprisingly, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats, David Vincent, Moyer already held that record. Here's your leaderboard:

    Jamie Moyer, 43 parks

    Randy Johnson, 41

    Pedro Martinez, 41

    Javier Vazquez, 41

    4 Jamie Moyer Note of the Week -- Part 2: But that Stanton slam was even more historic for other reasons. It was the biggest age gap between a pitcher and a hitter who homered off him. Stanton was 22 years, 195 days old when he let it fly. Moyer was 49 years, 185 days old when he served it up. And if you're not calculating along at home, that made for a difference of 26 years, 355 days. The largest previous gaps, according to the Sultan:

    Biggest grand-slam gap -- 21 years, 223 months: Boog Powell (age 21 years, 4 days) off Early Wynn (42 years, 227 days) on Aug. 21, 1962.

    Biggest gap on any homer -- 26 years, 188 days: Ruben Sierra (20 years, 280 days) off Phil Niekro (47 years, 103 days) on July 13, 1986.

    Quintin Berry


    5 Tigers rookie Quintin Berry did something Wednesday you might never see again. The first hit of his career was (ready?) a BUNT DOUBLE. He lofted it over a charging first baseman (Casey Kotchman), past a scrambling second baseman (Jason Kipnis) and into right field for the goofiest double of the year. With the help of the Elias Sports Bureau and Baseball-Reference.com, we've determined: (A) It's the first bunt double by anybody since Oakland's Cliff Pennington got one April 8, 2010; (B) it's the 18th bunt double in the big leagues since 1988; and (C) it's the first by any hitter in all those years that went for his first major league hit. It's a good bet that nobody in history ever got hit No. 1 like that. But we can't verify that. If you can, drop us a note at uselessinfodept@yahoo.com, or tweet it at us, at @jaysonst. As always, operators are standing by.

    Strike One: Fresh Prince Dept.

    Now that Prince Fielder is taking his act to Detroit, we have all sorts of fascinating stuff to contemplate. Such as ...

    • The Tigers are now a team that has assembled three guys who have finished in the top three of an MVP election: Prince, Miguel Cabrera and your reigning MVP, Justin Verlander. So how many other teams currently employ more than one player who has done that? Here they come:

    [+] EnlargePrince Fielder
    Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePrince Fielder averages a home run every 15.3 at-bats.
    • Prince's return to Detroit also introduces all sorts of cool father-son angles. Did you know that if he hits 40 homers this (or any) season, he and his dad, Cecil, would become the first father-son pair in history to hit 40 or more in a season for the same team?

    • The Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run guru David Vincent, also reports that only three father-son duos have ever even hit 20 in a season for the same team. Here they come:

    Gus (30, in 1953) and Buddy (20, in 1986) Bell (Reds)

    Felipe (25, in 1962) and Moises (22, in 2006) Alou (Giants)

    Bobby (six times) and Barry (14 times) (Giants)

    • And only the Bonds family has ever produced a father and son who hit 30-plus in a season for the same team. Bobby went deep 32 times in 1969. Barry, you know all about.

    • The Fielders, incidentally, are already the only father-son members of the I Hit 50 in a Season (For Any Team) Club.

    • Back in the late, great 1990s, Cecil hit 245 home runs for the Tigers. Since Prince is going to be sticking around until 2020, it's a good bet he hits at least that many. If so, the Sultan says the Fielders will become the first father-son combo ever to hit more than 200 bombs for the same team. Who knew!

    • The only previous father-son act that even hit 100 or more for the same team? The Bonds family (586 for Barry, 186 for his dad), naturally. The only other duo that came close? The Griffeys (210 for Ken Jr., 71 for Senior).

    • Meanwhile, it's hard to escape the inevitable poundage tidbits. If we accept the official weights listed for Prince (275 pounds) and Cabrera (240), they'll weigh in at 515 pounds. Believe it or not, that would only tie them for the heftiest position-player teammates in the big leagues, if we disqualify catchers. The co-leaders in the tip-the-scales-tag-team standings: Carlos Lee (265) and Brett Wallace (250) in Houston.

    • And, finally, when Prince hits his 20th homer this year, he'll become the fourth active member of the exalted 250-250 Club (250 Pounds, 250 Homers). The others, according to baseball-reference.com's sensational Play Index: Adam Dunn, Jim Thome and Carlos Lee. No truth to the rumor that all active members get a lifetime pass to the Old Country Buffet.

    Strike Two: Seniors Night Dept.

    Omar Vizquel


    Jamie Moyer


    The Rockies just signed Jamie Moyer. The Blue Jays just signed Omar Vizquel. Jim Thome is bringing his first-base mitt to the Phillies' camp. So darned, those old-timers out there just keep on chugging. And let's try to put that in perspective:

    • Moyer is 49 years old. If he makes the team, he'll become only the second non-knuckleballer in history to throw a pitch at age 49 or older. The other: Satchel Paige, who came out of retirement to pitch one game for the 1965 Kansas City A's -- at age 59.

    • If Moyer actually wins a game, he'll become just the third pitcher -- but the oldest non-knuckleballer -- to rack up a win at this advanced age. The others: Jack Quinn (50) and Hoyt Wilhelm (49). Oldest non-knuckleballer besides Moyer ever to get credited for a win in the big leagues: The unforgettable Hod Lisenbee, at age 46, in 1945.

    • Then there's Vizquel. He'll turn 45 in April. If he even starts one game at shortstop for the Blue Jays, he'll become the first 45-year-old to start at short in modern history. He and Bobby Wallace (of the 1918 Cardinals) are the only 44-year-olds to do it.

    • And if Vizquel finds his way into the box scores in as many games as he did last year (58), he'll become just the third position player in modern history to play at least 50 games at age 45 or older. I'll bet you've heard of the other two: Pete Rose (who played in 72, at age 45, for the 1986 Reds) and Julio Franco (who appeared in 108, at age 46, for the 2005 Braves).

    • Finally, how about Thome? He's 41 now. He turns 42 in August. And his manager, Charlie Manuel, says he thinks Thome can play 20 games at first base this year. Well, if he does, he'll be just the ninth player since World War 2 to start at least 20 games at first base in a season at age 41 or older. Julio Franco did it at age 47! Rose started 61 games at age 45 -- and actually started all 162 games when he was Thome's age!

    Here's the whole list:
    • -- Franco (at ages 42, 43, 44, 45, 46 and 47)
    • -- Rose (at 41, 42, 43, 44 and 45)
    • -- Tony Perez ((at 41, 42, 43 and 44)
    • -- Andres Galarraga (at 41 and 42)
    • -- Darrell Evans (at 41 and 42)
    • -- Willie McCovey (at 41 and 42)
    • -- Carl Yastrzemski (at 41)
    • -- Jeff Conine (at 41)

    Strike Three: Useless Info. Dept.

    In other news ...

    • So postseason baseball games drag on way too long, huh? Really? As our compadre, Jorge Arangure, observed Sunday, just the REGULATION portion of that 49ers-Giants game took longer to play than five of the seven 2011 World Series games.

    • Another fun Jamie Moyer note, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info's Justin Ray: Moyer's first game in the big leagues was June 16, 1986. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 263 players who weren't even born yet back then appeared in at least one major league game last season.

    • And as ESPN Stats & Info Kernel collector Doug Kern reports, Moyer played in 141 games in the big leagues before the Rockies played their FIRST game in the big leagues.

    • Just so Yu Darvish knows where his bar is set, want to guess which Japanese starting pitcher has had the most dominating season on this side of the Pacific? According to baseball-reference.com, it wasn't Daisuke Matsuzaka or Hideo Nomo, believe it or not. If we rank all seasons of 10 starts or more by Adjusted ERA-Plus, the winner is ... uhhhhh, Tomo Ohka? Now we'd like somebody to explain how this can be. His 13 appearances for the 2000 Red Sox were assigned a 163 ERA-Plus, even though his other numbers don't quite add up to what we'd commonly describe as "dominance": 3-6, 3.12 ERA, 1.385 WHIP and just 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Take a look at this list for yourself. And if you can decipher it, please let us know.

    • There are 16 "active" players with at least 2,150 career hits. Of that group, half of them are still unemployed: Pudge Rodriguez (2,844), Johnny Damon (2,723), Vladimir Guerrero (2,590), Manny Ramirez (2,574), Miguel Tejada (2,362), Edgar Renteria (2,327), Jason Kendall (2,195) and Magglio Ordonez (2,156).

    • Oh, and one more thing: Now that Prince has signed, the only remaining free agent who had an OPS of at least .800 last year (with at least 300 plate appearances) is ... Casey Kotchman (.800 on the nose). Who else?