Fish have become unexpected wild-card threat

Originally Published: August 29, 2006
By Enrique Rojas | ESPNdeportes.com

MIAMI -- With the Marlins surging and very much in the mix in the National League wild-card race, Miguel Cabrera is turning South Florida into a dangerous place for visiting teams.

The Marlins' third baseman has become an unstoppable force for opposing pitchers, especially at Dolphins Stadium, as he competes for the National League batting title and keeps Florida in the hunt for the postseason.

Miguel Cabrera
Wilfredo Lee /AP PhotoCabrera is the sixth-youngest player in MLB history to reach 100 career home runs.
Cabrera, 24, is hitting .400 in August to raise his average to .340 for the year, behind only Pittsburgh's Freddy Garcia (.346) for the league lead. In addition, he has 31 RBI this month, a team record, and is now just three away from driving in 100 for the third consecutive season.

"To be honest, I do want to win the batting title and I am focused on it," Cabrera told ESPNdeportes.com. "When a hitter is that close to something like that, he's got to take advantage of it and go for it.

"You never know when you'll have another chance at a batting title in your career."

In his fourth season in the majors (and third complete season), Cabrera is putting together his best year, despite not having the type of protection in the Marlins' lineup that he had in previous campaigns. With its "market correction" to reduce payroll in the offseason, Florida said goodbye to most of its big-name players.

Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo and Paul Lo Duca were replaced by youngsters with little or no big league experience, leaving Cabrera as a lone warrior in the Marlins' lineup.

"From the beginning, I knew I'd have to make some adjustments, because opposing pitchers weren't going to throw me many good pitches," said Cabrera, who is hitting .353 at home and has drawn a career-high 68 walks this season. "I've had to learn to be patient by necessity, because generally I only see one good pitch per at-bat, and a lot of times I don't see anything close [to the strike zone]."

Cabrera, who has 23 home runs, may not reach his career high of 33 two years ago, but he has reached new heights in doubles (44) and leads the majors in on-base percentage (.429).

"This is the most important race we have -- the collective goal of reaching the playoffs and wiping out all the predictions about us before the season."
-- Miguel Cabrera

As Cabrera has grown into a dominant hitter, the Marlins have become an unexpected threat to Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and other teams competing for the NL wild card.

With a payroll of just $15 million (lowest in MLB), Florida has won eight straight and 12 of its last 17 to go to 64-66 for the season, two games under .500 and two games off the wild-card pace.

"This is the most important race we have -- the collective goal of reaching the playoffs and wiping out all the predictions about us before the season," said Cabrera.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.