Leyland's dilemma: Play or sit Cabrera with Triple Crown on line Wednesday?

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
Leyland: 'I don't know exactly what I'm going to do yet. But I'm sure I'll be criticized, whatever it is.' (Getty)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jim Leyland didn't say it, but he sure sounded like a man watching Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown numbers with the rest of us.

With his slugger on deck to become the first man to claim one in 45 years, Leyland said late Tuesday that he's not sure whether Cabrera will play one more game ... or sit out Wednesday's finale while resting for Saturday's Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

"I have not made that decision yet," Leyland said following the Tigers' day-after-clinching 4-2 loss here. "But I will.

"I'm going to think about it tonight. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do yet.

"But I'm sure I'll be criticized, whatever it is."

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Not from here, he won't.

Following a 2-for-3 evening in which he rapped out two more singles and collected two more RBI, Cabrera now has played in 160 of the Tigers' 161 games and has amassed 695 plate appearances.

He now is the only man in 45 years to go into the final day of the season leading his league in the Triple Crown categories -- batting average (.331), home runs (44) and RBI (139). On Wednesday, he could become only the 11th man in American League history to accomplish the feat.

Because of a blazing finish in which he collected six hits over six at-bats over his final four plate appearances Monday and his first two Tuesday, he has distanced himself from the pack in two of the three categories. Only in home runs now does Hamilton, at 43, or even Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion (42), have a chance to pass him.

Leyland's dilemma over whether to play Cabrera might become a non-issue by the time the Tigers and Royals finish their season Wednesday night, anyway. Because if Hamilton fails to homer in an afternoon game in Oakland, Cabrera could essentially win the Triple Crown before his game even starts.

So ... aim arrows at Leyland or the Tigers if Cabrera sits?

If Cabrera already is leading in the Triple Crown categories when everyone else is done playing, so what? While a manager's first instinct always is to protect his players, Leyland's biggest responsibility now is to make sure the Tigers are ready for the playoffs.

He -- and they -- have earned that luxury.

"I'm taking that into consideration, if you want to know the truth," Leyland said of Cabera's 6-for-6 run over the past 24 hours. "The guy got six hits in six at-bats. Come on, what else has he got to do?

"What's the difference what I do? He's certainly not backing into anything, what he's done. Six-for-six is pretty good."

Leyland sounded like he was leaning toward giving Cabrera the day off, unless Cabera wants to play.

Cabrera's thoughts?

"Why not?" he said, before adding: "He writes the lineups. I do what he wants. He's the manager. He's the boss."

Leyland is adamant that 695 plate appearances -- Cabrera's 692 into Tuesday ranked ninth in the majors -- is plenty.

"Enough is enough," Leyland said. "What do you want him to do? In my opinion, if somebody tries to create a flaw in this, it's not there."

Told that home runs is the only dicey department remaining, Leyland cracked a wry smile and muttered something about getting advice via his e-mail and Twitter ("which I have neither one of") regarding what he should do with Cabrera.

The truth of the matter, though, is that Cabrera left Kauffman Stadium late Tuesday with the Triple Crown practically in his pocket.

With a .331 batting average, he is seven points ahead of Mike Trout (.324), who was 1 for 5 against the Mariners Tuesday night.

With 139 RBI, he is 11 ahead of Hamilton (128).

"No matter what happens, there are absolutely no flaws in Miguel Cabrera's season," Leyland said fiercely. "None. Period. End of story.

"That's just the way it is."

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