PHOENIX — The first base showcase continued this week at Chase Field. After the best first basemen in the National League were in town over the weekend, the best in the game are here now.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt can lay claim, even if Cabrera has been forced to the other infield corner this series because the DH is forbidden in interleague games at a National League park.
With Cabrera and Goldschmidt, a designated hitter is always present.
Goldschmidt called Cabrera a must-see A.B.
"As a fan, you never walk away from the TV when he is coming up to bat," Goldschmidt said Monday.
Goldschmidt makes a good point. Cabrera is the two-time reigning AL MVP, and in 2011 he became the first major leaguer in 45 years to win the triple crown. He has led the AL in hitting in the last three seasons, averaging .340, 38 doubles, 39 home runs and 127 RBI. His .320 career average is in top 50 in major league history, and only the late Tony Gwynn can rival the numbers he has put up in the last half-century.
"He’s too good to be true," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said. "But he is."
Goldschmidt’s resume is not as long, but it is headed in that direction. He was runner-up in the NL MVP voting last season while posting the best offensive season in the league. He led the NL with 125 RBI and was tied for the league lead with 36 homers. After hitting 79 doubles in his first two full seasons in 2012-13, he leads the majors with 38 this season. That’s two more than No. 2 Cabrera.
If it seems sacrilege to mention the two in the same sentence, at least one major league pitcher believes it is appropriate.
"Yeah, sure, especially their ability to drive the ball the other way," said D-backs right-hander Brad Ziegler, who has faced Cabrera nine times in a career spent largely in the AL before joining the D-backs at the 2011 trade deadline.
"Any hitter that can do that consistently will be among the best hitters in baseball in a short time, if they are not already. Those two guys have proven it. You look at Adrian Gonzalez when he was younger. He drove the ball to left-center."
Cabrera has hit 66 of his 339 homers to right field and 28 more to right-center field, according to baseball-reference.com, an inordinate amount for a right-handed hitter. Goldschmidt has hit 13 of his 82 to right field and another 14 to right-center.
An all-field approach like that leaves pitchers walking a tightrope.
"At that point, there is not a consistent way to get a guy out," Ziegler said. "You can’t just throw it down and away, like you can on some other guys and know that most of the time they are going to make outs on it. Those guys don’t do it. You have to come up with something completely new."
That can be a challenge, part of the reason pitchers would rather take their chances with someone else in high-leverage situations. Cabrera, surrounded by a more productive cast, has walked 35 times this season, five intentionally. Goldschmidt is less likely to get something to hit. He has been walked 58 times, nine intentionally, more than Albert Pujols and Evan Longoria.
Walks to those two played a big role in the D-backs’ 5-4 victory Tuesday. Even with two outs and runners on first and second, the Tigers walked Goldschmidt on four pitches to load the bases in the eighth. Miguel Montero followed with the game-winning, two-run single.
One of the things that makes Paul Goldschmidt so effective is he can blast homers to all fields.
Closer Addison Reed returned the respect in the ninth inning, walking Cabrera on four pitches to put the tying run on base before second baseman Aaron Hill’s diving catch and throw ended the game.
"Goldschmidt is an excellent player," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "But it’s tough to compare someone in this day and age to ‘Miggy.’ He’s done things that no one has done for decades. He’s very baseball savvy. He’s a smart baseball player. He sees what’s happening around him in the game and reacts to it. He’s not a robot out there."
At the same time, "he enjoys being around his teammates and playing the game. He’s still like a kid at heart when he steps on the baseball field."
The ability to make adjustments at-bat to at-bat, pitch to pitch, is what separates hitters like Cabrera from the field, Ziegler said.
"Any elite-level hitter, you can say that there is never one way to get him out, where you can just rely on a fastball down and away or an 0-2 breaking ball," Ziegler said. "Sometimes you can get him out on it, sometimes you can’t. In the course of an at-bat, you’ll throw him a pitch that might make him look foolish early on. And then late in the at-bat, you can throw him the same pitch and he just murders it."
Cabrera and Goldschmidt have played in the past two All-Star games, although they have never had a chance to get to know one another. It is hard enough to speak to teammates, let alone those on the other side. But they have managed to keep track of each other.
"He puts every very good numbers," Cabrera said. "But we’re here to win games. We’re not here to talk about numbers. That’s the bottom line."
They even talk alike.
"He does it all, and he’s been doing it for a very long time," Goldschmidt said. "He can hit the ball away. He can pull it. He makes adjustments. There is not one way you can get him out. He shows up every day and gets the job done. He’s very, very impressive."