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Tigers need productive Cabrera and company to thrive

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland (R) talks with third base coach Tom Brookens after Omar Infante's three-run double against the Kansas Cit
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland (R) talks with third base coach Tom Brookens after Omar Infante's three-run double against the Kansas Cit

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - The Detroit Tigers possess the best triple-threat on the pitcher's mound but desperately need slugger Miguel Cabrera and his lineup mates to roar into gear if they are to claim an elusive World Series crown.

The Tigers fell in last year's World Series in a four-game sweep by the San Francisco Giants, six years after losing the 2006 Fall Classic in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

As good as starting pitchers Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez promise to be, they need backing from Detroit bats that lost their power this past month if they are to end the franchise's 29-year championship drought.

Detroit (93-69) was hardly pressured in grabbing the AL Central title, but their fading bats was disquieting to some who remembered how their lumber slumbered in the World Series when they scored a total of six runs on 20 hits.

Hall of Famer Al Kaline, who still works for Detroit's front office, sees no reason for panic and said he recognized some of the same qualities that helped his 1968 Tigers win the World Series in seven games over the Cardinals.

"I'm not with this team every day," Kaline told the Detroit Free Press. "But I do see some similarities with this team and '68 in that there's a quiet balance to this team.

"They don't get too high. They don't get too low. And that comes from a confidence that they know they can get the job done when they absolutely have to get it done. And that reminds me some of the 1968 team."

Kaline said the '68 Tigers had a determination born from losing the American League pennant on the last day of the 1967 season, and he believed these Tigers have the same resolve after squandering their opportunity last year.

Manager Jim Leyland certainly hopes so and knows he has a fighting chance in every game given his array of starting pitching.

Scherzer blossomed with a stunning 21-3 record and 2.90 earned run average, Sanchez went 14-8 and led the league in ERA at 2.57, while Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner, picked up after a mediocre start to finish 13-12 and 3.46.

PARAMOUNT CONCERN

The bullpen leading up to closer Joaquin Benoit remains something of a question mark, but of paramount concern is runs.

Leyland, whose team led the league in scoring before the September slump, said he was not worried about Cabrera.

"You're talking about the best hitter in baseball," Leyland said. "His presence alone in the lineup -- whether he's as hot as he normally is or not -- is worth his weight in gold."

A productive Cabrera could be the key to bringing some joy to economically depressed Detroit, and lift some spirits in a city which this summer declared bankruptcy.

Hobbled by abdominal and groin issues since June, Cabrera still cobbled together a season that nearly matched his 2012 MVP campaign when he became the first player in 45 years to lead the league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average.

The third baseman equaled his home run total of last year with 44 in 67 fewer at-bats and his 137 RBIs was just two shy of last season. Cabrera's league-leading .348 average topped his .330 from 2012.

But Cabrera hit just one homer and seven RBIs in September, after an August in which he belted 11 homers and had 31 RBIs, though he did finish his regular season with back-to-back two-hit games in Miami.

"I'm really happy where Cabrera is right now," Leyland said. "I think he's getting it back. He looks really good."

The long-ball threat of Prince Fielder, stronger second-half performances by designated hitter Victor Martinez and catcher Alex Avila, and the return of Jhonny Peralta following a 50-game doping ban could also help the Tigers claw their way to the top.

"That's the goal," said Cabrera. "I'm very positive I'm going to be good."

The Tigers open the best-of-five AL Division Series versus the host Oakland Athletics on Friday.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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