DETROIT -- Why are teams still pitching to Miguel Cabrera when he is having a season that is somewhere between great and unbelievable?
The answer to that question might be as straightforward as these two words:
This was the verdict of both managers in Monday night's contest between Cabrera's Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics. Those managers would be Jim Leyland, who leads all active Major League managers in victories, and Bob Melvin, who won the Manager of the Year Award in both leagues, including with the A's last season.
But Monday night, the Athletics won, 8-6, in part because they walked Cabrera intentionally in a crucial situation. Cabrera had already made his presence felt, hitting a game-tying two-run homer off Oakland starter A.J. Griffin on a 3-1 pitch in the fifth.
In the seventh, with two on, two outs and the A's up by three runs, reliever Dan Otero started off 2-0 to Cabrera and Melvin ordered the intentional walk. He then brought in lefty Sean Doolittle to face the left-handed-hitting Fielder. The walk brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Fielder hit a healthy fly ball to center, but Coco Crisp tracked it down in front of the warning track and the crisis passed for Oakland.
"Based on what happened in [Cabrera's] last at-bat, you've got to take your chances with the other guy at times," Melvin said in explaining the intentional walk. "But it's not an easy thing to do, because [Fielder] thrives in those situations and I'm sure it gives him a little extra motivation. You have to do what you think is practical, too.
"It's easier to sit back and make that decision when you're watching on TV, instead of sitting in the dugout. There's adrenaline going on, and there's a guy [Fielder] behind him who can hurt you and can put them ahead."
Cabrera's work this year requires no introduction. He is encoring from his Triple Crown season of 2012 with an even better season, a season of historical accomplishment. He leads the Majors in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, total bases, hits and RBIs.
But he doesn't lead in walks. Cabrera has been walked 76 times this season. Mike Trout of the Angels has 78. Joey Votto of the Reds leads the Majors with 101. And Cabrera is merely tied in intentional walks. He has 17, as does Boston's David Ortiz.
As a base-on-balls reference point, Barry Bonds had 232 walks, 120 of them intentional, in 2004.
The point is, Cabrera is having a huge season, but he isn't being walked as often as might be expected. Leyland was asked Monday if he were managing against Cabrera, would he be tempted to walk him as often as possible?
"No," Leyland said. "You might think about that if the [next] guy could hit only singles. But not a guy who can put it up in the seats.
"I wouldn't do it. I might do it with a singles hitter behind him, but I wouldn't do it with Prince Fielder behind him."
The opposition has apparently been thinking in the same direction. Cabrera was walked 108 times in 2011, the year before Fielder came to Detroit. In 2012, Fielder's first year with the Tigers, Cabrera walked only 66 times.
Cabrera was walked intentionally a career-high 32 times in 2010. After Fielder joined him in 2012, that number dropped to 17.
Melvin was asked if his pitchers would work with extreme caution to Cabrera, or if the strength of the Detroit lineup precluded that approach.
"Both," Melvin said. "You always think about treading lightly around [Cabrera] and pitching very carefully. The fact that they are deep behind him and in front of him makes it that much more difficult. I mean, you don't want to put more baserunners on in front of some guys behind him who can knock in runs.
"But you also have to take into consideration what he can do. If there's any one guy on a team that you not only don't want to beat you, but you don't want to hurt you, it's Miguel Cabrera.
But teams continue to pitch to Cabrera.
"Right, and I think that has a lot to do with Prince Fielder behind him," Melvin said. "I've looked up the numbers after an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera. Prince seems to enjoy that at times."
This season, Fielder is 6-for-15 (.400) with two walks and 10 RBIs when batting after Cabrera has been intentionally walked. At one point earlier this season, in a stretch of 10 at-bats after Cabrera had received any sort of walk, Fielder was 8-for-9 with one walk and 10 RBIs. While Fielder has not had his peak season, he has generally done his best work in close games. He has a 1.010 OPS this season in at-bats occurring in games that are tied.
And so, Fielder does offer significant protection to Cabrera. But with the season he is having, there will be times -- such as Monday night -- when the right move will be not pitching to Miguel Cabrera.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less