Detroit Tigers Newsletter: So when will Miguel Cabrera launch homer No. 499 (and No. 500)?

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera’s climb to 500 homers — or, well, 498, as that’s where he stands entering Tuesday’s game in Baltimore — was remarkably steady for the first dozen years of his career.

After homering in his first career game in 2003 — a walk-off as a 21-year-old, no less —Cabrera reached 100 homers in Game 530, on Aug. 23, 2006. (His first homer for the Detroit Tigers? No. 139, on March 31, 2008.) Homer No. 200 came three years later to the day, after another 470 games. Another 447 games later, on July 22, 2012 – about a month early, you might say – he arrived at homer No. 300. And 409 games after that, on May 16, 2015, came No. 400.

Tuesday’s game will be his 690th since THAT milestone homer, and his fifth since reaching No. 498. So when will Nos. 499 and, most importantly, 500 come?

Hello and welcome to the 498 Club Newsletter.

Of course, that’s a lot of milestones (and a lot of dates on the calendar — don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz) to go through for a simple conclusion, one that most folks already arrived at entering the season: Cabrera is slowing down.

But it was a hard conclusion to remember after he popped four balls over the fence in a week’s time, going from July to August. Likewise, it was hard to remember that when he homered on Opening Day … though going without a homer in his next eight games was a reminder. After that, there was a 17-game homerless streak stretching from April to mid-May. June featured a 15-game power outage. He opened July with an 18-game streak of staying inside the park. Put succinctly, a pessimistic view using that pattern has No. 500 coming sometime around Labor Day. (The Tigers are in Pittsburgh that Monday; buy your tickets now!)

There’s the optimistic view, too: Cabrera vs. the Orioles has been a pretty good bet for a homer, historically. Home runs Nos. 496 and 497 came last month in one game against the O’s. Cabrera has 24 homers in 78 career games vs. Baltimore, and 11 in 38 games at Camden Yards. Surely he can knock a couple out by Boog’s BBQ stand, right?

And then there’s the historical view. Four players have joined the 500-homer club in the previous 13 seasons (after three did it in 2007 alone). Let’s take a look at their spans between homers Nos. 498, 499 and 500:

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Manny Ramirez: The Boston slugger got to No. 498 on May 12, 1998, with his second homer of the month. But his third homer of May didn’t arrive for more than two weeks, on May 27. With that past, though, No. 500 arrived four days later, on May 31 — one day after he turned 36.

Gary Sheffield: The former Tiger might have had the shortest wait between Nos. 498 and 499, and then the longest wait for No. 500: 498 and 499 came in a single game with the Tigers, on Sept. 26, 2008 (in the first inning and then the eighth), but Sheffield then had to wait until April 17, 2009 – and change uniforms after the Tigers released him in spring training – for No. 500, which came in his sixth game of the year with the Mets.

Albert Pujols: The then-Angel picked up No. 498 in Detroit (off Joe Nathan, remember him?) on April 19, 2014, then waited three days before hitting No. 499 off Taylor Jordan in the first inning on April 22 and, four innings later, No. 500 (also off Jordan).

David Ortiz: “Big Papi” launched No. 498 to deep center at Fenway Park on Sept. 9, 2015, then waited three days to hit No. 499 (off future Tiger Matt Moore) in the first inning on Sept. 12 and (stop us if you’re heard this one before) … four more innings for No. 500 (also off Moore).

So that’s 16 days, a whole offseason, three days and three days. So … no pressure, Miggy.

No. none at all now that we’re already at a four-game homer-free run, extended by Cabrera’s day off Sunday and the Tigers’ day off Monday. But here’s the thing: The NBA and NHL drafts are done. So are the Olympics. Calvin Johnson’s bust is safely on display in Canton and the Lions are still a few days from disappointing us in their preseason opener. Cade Cunningham and the Pistons are tipping off in Las Vegas as the sun sets in Detroit. All of which adds up to LET’S JUST GET THIS TAKEN CARE OF THIS WEEK.

Or not. As the Freep’s Jeff Seidel opined here this week, Cabrera’s chase of 500 homers (and 3,000 hits, but let’s not get into that here) has added some excitement at Comerica Park. Of course, it has also added some pressure on Cabrera. The Freep’s Evan Petzold  has the scoop on that mindset; click here to find out why Cabrera identifies with Olympic gymnast Simone Biles.

Sticking around

There’s another Tiger who should be feeling a little less pressure: Jonathan Schoop, who was vocal about wanting to stay in Detroit, agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $15 million on Saturday. The 29-year-old has spent most of 2021 at first base, with a slash line of .309/.357/.506 since the beginning of May. So where’s he going to play in 2022? Our Man Petzold broke down what the Tigers’ infield could look like next season here.

Let the cash flow

2022? Infield? That’s right, it’s time for another round of “How! Much! Will! The! Tigers! Spend?” And now, here’s your host, Our Man Seidel, who writes here that he sees Christopher Ilitch (wonder if Scott Boras already has his number?) and the Tigers going after a shortstop and perhaps a few pitchers to bridge the gap to Jackson Jobe’s debut. Our Man Petzold concurred; click here for his look at a couple of big names that could be changing teams this offseason.

Mark your calendar, Part I

We’d normally save this for later in the newsletter, but since we’re already dreaming of Carlos Correa and playoff tickets in 2022, we’ll hit fast-forward just like MLB did when it released the 2022 schedule. It’s another March start, though this one’s in Seattle, where they have a roof (speaking of money that could have been spent in the past). Click here to find out from Our Man Petzold when the Tigers’ home opener is.

Haase at home

Also likely to be at Comerica for the 2022 home opener? Catcher/left fielder/lawn mower Eric Haase, who was named the AL’s Rookie of the Month for July after slashing .265/.319/.627. (Are we sure he can’t play shortstop?) Click here Our Man Petzold’s report on who the Dearborn Divine Child alum credits for his big month.

No average Joey

We’ve now reached the minor-league section of the “2022 hopeful” rundown … which yes, would be everyone in the Tigers system, but this week? It’s Joey Wentz, who has a 4.50 ERA in eight starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. Our Man Petzold reports that manager AJ Hinch is prioritizing strike-throwing in Wentz’s workload; click here to find out what Wentz has to do to become the second Wentz to play Comerica. (Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz takes the center field stage Tuesday night.)

Mark your calendar, Part II

In case you skipped the intro — who needs to read more about Cabrera, right? — the Tigers are headed to Baltimore for a trio of games Tuesday-Thursday (hello again, Matt Harvey), followed by a return to Comerica Park to face the not-quite-Guardians on Friday-Sunday. (It’s also “Fiesta Tigres” weekend, which would make it a great time for a certain Venezuelan-born slugger to hit two home runs.)

3 to watch

But enough about 2022! There’s games this week, too!

KYLE FUNKHOUSER: The load management plan comes for us all, son.

NIKO GOODRUM: There’s a new shortstop in town, who, uh, was the old shortstop.

TARIK SKUBAL: He blanked the BoSox for five innings; surely, he can go seven against the O’s on Wednesday?

Happy birthday, Wilson Ramos

Speaking of Venezuelan-born sluggers… Wilson Ramos, the ex-Tiger, turns 34 on Tuesday. Huh. Haven’t seen him around since the Tigers released him in June. Where is he now? Cleveland, you say? Huh, well, he probably didn’t do any damage against the Tigers over the weekend… 3-for-4, you say? With a home run? Well, no wonder Hinch told the Freep’s Mia Berry, “Baseball has a funny way of paying you back when you have to go away from that player.”

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Ted Simmons (72 on Monday), Steven Moya (30 on Monday), Anthony Gose (31 on Tuesday), Tom Brookens (68 on Tuesday), Rocky Colavito (88 on Tuesday), Bobo Newsom (would have been 114 on Wednesday; died in 1962), Fred Hutchinson (would have been 102 on Thursday, died in 1964), Mark Fidrych (would have been 67 on Saturday; died in 2009).

TL;DR

We do a lot of remembering — and making fun of — the past in this here newsletter, mostly under the notion that you need to learn from the past to build a brighter future. (Also, we have to remember the awful 2019 Tigers, so you should too.) Which is why it’s a heartwarming thing that the Tigers, along with several other local charities, are chipping in to restore Hamtramck Stadium, the home of the Negro Leagues’ Detroit Stars. Click here to read from Our Man Seidel how the project got underway this week.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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