SHAWN WINDSOR: Miguel Cabrera goes from best hitter alive to just All-Star

ALL-STAR GAME: Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (right) and Orioles pitcher Zach Britton (left) celebrate with the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera after a 4-2 win against the National League on Tuesday in the All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego. (Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

ALL-STAR GAME: Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (right) and Orioles pitcher Zach Britton (left) celebrate with the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera after a 4-2 win against the National League on Tuesday in the All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego. (Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters in the American League. Whether judged by old-school numbers or more nuanced metrics, the Tigers first baseman is having a season worthy of the All-Star Game.

Which makes sense, since he just played in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night in San Diego. Yet there is a difference between calling Cabrera one of the best in the American League and one of the best to ever play.

In 2010-13, few have ever hit a ball as efficiently and as prodigiously as Cabrera. His at-bats were how we organized our summer evenings. When he walked into the on-deck circle, we stopped whatever we were doing to watch.

Or to listen.

Cabrera is now more than two years removed from being that player.

This isn’t to say he won’t be that player again. In fact, he had a stretch this season that reminded us of how hard and well he can hit a ball.

But his days of appointment viewing finally might be coming to a close. Which is difficult for several reasons. Mostly, though, it’s tough because of this:

Greatness doesn’t come along often, especially to your backyard.

Whatever else we said about the Tigers during their renaissance the past decade — and there was plenty to say — we were witness to a stretch of incandescence. Cabrera, at his best, marked the calendar. He made our most difficult team sport look relatively easy.

How many times did he come to the plate with a region’s assumption of success on his back?

Think about this for a moment, about how difficult it is to hit a baseball, about the timing and coordination and balance and strength it takes to meet a sinking fastball on the outside part of the plate and blast it beyond the opposite-field fence?

Then think about how often he did that.

Cabrera can, obviously, still smoke a baseball — he’s on pace to hit the most homers he has since 2013, the year after he won the Triple Crown. The return of some of his power is a good sign after two injury-beset years had robbed him of much of it.

The issue now is contact. Or, more accurately, making the right kind of contact.

His batting average (.293 at the All-Star break) is the lowest it has been since 2008. His BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, which can tell us how hard a player is hitting the ball, is also the lowest it has been since 2008.

This can be a product of injury; Cabrera spent two years fighting issues with his lower half. It can be a product of age; Cabrera is 33. It can be a product of timing, meaning the batter isn’t squaring up the ball as he once did; manager Brad Ausmus has said Cabrera had to compensate in his swing because of those injuries. This year he has had to unlearn some of those bad habits.

The safe bet is that a combination of factors has led Cabrera to this point, to a season in which, among other things, he is inexplicably unable to hit left-handers (.200 in the first half) — an anomaly for a right-handed hitter.

It is possible that the herculean stretch we saw from Cabrera in May is proof that all he needs is a little more time to fine-tune, to recalibrate, to rediscover the equilibrium that made him one of the best hitters any of us have ever seen.

After all, when Cabrera played in San Diego on Tuesday, another aging slugger, David Ortiz, was there, too. The Red Sox icon is having his best season in years. And he’s 40.

Deep down, though, we know sustained greatness isn’t likely for Cabrera anymore. History tells us as much. That isn’t to say we won’t see glimpses, or even more than glimpses.

Heck, just last week Cabrera drilled an outside fastball off the wall in right-center at Progressive Field in Cleveland, the sort of did-you-see-that moment he once filled our summers with.

It was quite a sight. It was also a reminder of what we used to see more often.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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