If Miguel Cabrera aggravated his already strained lower abdomen in his final at-bat on Tuesday night, the Detroit Tigers have to play it smart: Forget the Triple Crown and MVP race. The Tigers need a healthy Cabrera for October, not a guy playing through injuries so he can chase individual awards.
Cabrera grimaced on his first swing and eventually struck out to end the game as the Tigers lost to the Twins. "That first swing, it looked like he reacted with some pain," manager Jim Leyland said after the game. "You could see it in his facial expression. I don't know what the situation is. I'll have to go check it. I could tell when he came up the steps he was hurting a little bit."
As of early Wednesday afternoon there was no update on Cabrera's condition, although Leyland said Tuesday that he hopes Cabrera will be able to play today.
The Tigers have a 5.5-game AL Central lead over the Indians -- not a lock but a comfortable lead at this point in the season. Leyland should give Cabrera a few days off at the minimum. He could sit Cabrera the final two games of the Twins series and this weekend against the Mets. After that, the Tigers begin a tough 13-game stretch against the A's, Indians, Red Sox and Royals. Better to sit him against the Mets, hope that rest helps a little, and then get him back in the lineup next week.
And if the injury is more severe, be as cautious as possible. Remember what the Rangers did with Josh Hamilton in 2010. He hurt his rib in early September and missed the rest of the month, returning only for the final three games before the playoffs began. The Rangers had a larger margin of error -- they led the A's by eight games when Hamilton was injured -- but they didn't rush him back. He returned and helped the Rangers reach the World Series. Oh ... and still won the AL MVP award.
Hamilton didn't have the competition for the award that Cabrera has this year and, yes, if Cabrera misses two to three weeks, that could help Chris Davis. Cabrera doesn't like to sit out -- he's missed five games this year, which is already the second most he's missed in a season in his career. But this is where the front office and training staff need to work with Cabrera and force him to rest if needed.
Also, the impact of one player -- even one as great as Cabrera -- is overrated. Cabrera's win above replacement figure is 6.7 in the 117 games he's played. In his absence the Tigers would likely play Ramon Santiago or Don Kelly at third base, pretty much the definition of replacement-level players. Cabrera has been worth one win roughly every 17 games. Sit him 17 games and you're looking at about one extra loss. That's unlikely to cost the Tigers the division title.