When the Detroit Tigers captured the American League Central Division crown last week, media-types overwhelmingly pointed to star pitcher Justin Verlander as the main factor leading to that accomplishment. I would like to politely disagree.
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Yes, it’s true that Verlander deserves to win the Cy Young award for his sensational season. But he isn’t the machine that keeps the Tigers running on an everyday basis. That distinction belongs to first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
When Detroit clinched its playoff berth on September 16th, Cabrera was hitting .335 with 25 home runs and 97 RBIs. With men in scoring position, he was hitting .397, best in the American League. He had played in all but one of the Tiger’s 151 games. Most importantly, though, the 28 year old Venezuelan has continued to be a model of consistency, something he’s achieved throughout his nine major league seasons. What you see is what you get with Cabrera, which is a power bat, solid defense and quiet leadership.
Cabrera is a large man. His 6′-4″, 240 pound frame is an imposing figure in the batter’s box. But as strong as he is physically, Miguel has had the mental toughness to face and overcome some well-documented personal issues. I’m not going to rant about Cabrera’s past drinking problems. Critics have already done enough of that, branding him as a selfish, overpaid athlete and a poor role model. Those people don’t really know Miguel. What I can tell you is that he’s been on the wagon all season and has successfully defused what could have been a huge distraction. The support rendered by manager Jim Leyland and the entire Tiger team has allowed Cabrera to recover and concentrate on crushing opposing pitchers.
“He’s relaxed and moving better than he has all year,” Leyland said of Cabrera, who has hit at a .373 clip over the last 50 plus games.
What has made Cabrera’s season even more impressive is that he’s racked up big numbers without the help of veteran countryman Magglio Ordonez, who has been hampered with injuries. Even though another Venezuelan, Victor Martinez, has provided some protection in the lineup, Cabrera is second only to Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista in intentional walks.
“I just try to stay patient at the plate and look for a mistake,” reasons Miguel. “Nobody hits a perfect pitch.”
Cabrera’s strength allows him to drive those “mistakes” to all fields with gap power. He is the first Tiger to hit more than 40 doubles in consecutive seasons since Hank Greenberg did it in 1934. Cabrera currently ranks second behind Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox in the batting title race, and has been on base more than any player in the American League.
When the Tigers celebrated their title in a champagne-soaked visitor’s clubhouse, Cabrera stayed away from the bubbly but puffed contently on a victory cigar. It was the first hurdle in a quest to get back to the World Series, something he experienced in 2003 as a rookie with the Florida Marlins.
“I feel great, man, I’m so happy,” smiled Miguel. “We’ve done something for Detroit, for our owner, and it feels awesome.”
As good as Verlander has been, Cabrera is clearly the Tigers MVP. They wouldn’t be where they are without him.