Despite playing through a torn groin late last season, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera still managed to win a second straight AL MVP award in 2013. He eventually underwent offseason surgery following the team's run to the ALCS.
Cabrera, 31, is hitting an excellent .306/.364/.534 (142 OPS+) with 14 home runs while leading the league in both doubles (34) and runs batted in (75) this summer. That is obviously outstanding production, but it is down from the 188 OPS+ he posted last year and the 177 OPS+ he put up from 2010-13.
While talking to Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today on Monday, Cabrera admitted that he is not fully recovered from the offseason surgery, and that it still hampers him from time to time.
"There are times when I feel good, but there are always muscles that are tightening, muscles that are not functioning properly,'' Cabrera said in Spanish. "It's part of the process. The same thing is happening to Justin Verlander, but the difference is he pitches every five days, so you don't see it as frequently.
"But as he and I talked about, we're never going to offer any excuses for our performance. We always want to be out on the field and compete, and I think that's the most important thing we can do, compete and try to get past this tough time. And the main thing is we're in first place.''
"I think it has affected me quite a bit, like last year, when in the last month I wasn't using my bottom half, my feet and the waist area,'' Cabrera said. "I hope I can slowly regain that. The good thing is I haven't gotten too anxious. I just try to find ways to help my team win."
Cabrera's power output is certainly down -- his .534 slugging percentage would be his lowest since 2004, his .227 isolated power his lowest since 2009 -- and that makes sense if he's unable to properly use his lower half. That he's still been able to hit so relatively well without a solid base underneath him is remarkable.
Verlander, 31, is in the middle of a disastrous season. His 8-8 record comes with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP, both the highest marks of his career. Verlander's strikeout rate (6.7 K/9) is also way down and he leads baseball in hits (142) and earned runs (70) allowed. The Tigers probably hope his poor performance is due to the surgery and not something else, because at least then they'd have an explanation and could reasonably expect him to improve in time.
The Tigers came into the All-Star break with a comfortable 6.5-game lead in the AL Central. The division is not wrapped up, not even close, but they do have a bit of a cushion and don't need Cabrera and Verlander to be their superstar selves to get to the postseason.