Cabrera easily front-runner for league MVP

Cabrera easily front-runner for league MVP

Published Aug. 13, 2012 1:00 p.m. ET

Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is the best choice for American League MVP.

He is the only player in the league with a distinct chance at winning the Triple Crown, and is carrying his team toward the postseason once again.

In fact, the only serious MVP challengers Cabrera has right now are Texas Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton and Los Angeles Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout.

The choice for the league’s top honor, won last year by Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, is determined by not only statistics but the impact a player makes on the game.

Cabrera is hard to beat in both instances.

Trout should win the batting title; Cabrera and Josh Hamilton are running away from the pack for the RBI crown. Cabrera, after what for him was a slow start, also could challenge Hamilton and Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn for the home-run title.

Cabrera has a shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. If Trout comes down a bit from his .340 through Sunday and Cabrera comes up from his .324, it could happen.

But it has been 45 years since anybody has accomplished the feat, and the odds are against him. Keep in mind, however, that Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez are the only three active players to have won the three titles in separate seasons.

Cabrera hit .344 to win the 2011 batting title, 37 homers to finish on top in 2008 and a league-leading 126 RBI in 2010.

The only other Tigers player to lead all three categories was Ty Cobb, the 1909 Triple Crown winner.

Yastrzemski, by the way, was the AL MVP in 19667. Winning the Triple Crown would make Cabrera a virtual lock for that, too.

Great numbers get you in the conversation.

Great performances get you the award.

Cabrera’s game-winning, two-run homer in the 10th inning against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 5 was the kind of show-stopper required of MVPs.

And he constantly picks up the club, as he did Sunday at Texas. The Tigers were on the verge of stranding runners on second and third in the fifth inning after Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks struck out. But Cabrera laced a two-run double into the corner against Rangers rookie Yu Darvish, one of the game’s toughest pitchers.

Cabrera is generally considered the game’s best hitter, and the respect he receives is exhibited in what happens each time he comes to bat in a key situation. The pitching coach or manager trots out to the mound to discuss matters with the pitcher and catcher.

The message goes something like this: “Stop hyperventilating. Take a deep breath. Don’t give him anything to hit, Meat. Hey, walk him if you have to. Want to walk him?”

Though, the intentional walks have greatly decreased with the arrival of Prince Fielder to hit behind him. And that’s significant. Cabrera could reach the 40-homer and 130-RBI plateaus for the first time — in part because pitchers must give him more pitches to hit.

Now, Trout is the superior defender. His three homer-saving leaps are some of the most amazing ever. And Cabrera is an average fielder.

But in the past 10 years, only four of the 20 MVP winners in the two leagues also won a Gold Glove the same season. Those were Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer (2009), Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (2008), Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (2007) and Rodriguez (2003), when he played shortstop for the Rangers.

Hitting tends to win out where the award is considered.

Trout (.340, 21 homers, 65 RBI) is impressive with the bat, but doesn’t match up in production with Cabrera (.324, 29, 98) or Hamilton (.291, 32, 99). Trout hit his 25th career homer Tuesday on his 21st birthday, and only 10 others have hit 25 by the day they turned 21.

Mel Ott had the most homers in that group, with 61, and is followed by Tony Conigliaro (56), Ken Griffey, Jr. (38), Mickey Mantle (36), Frank Robinson (35), Al Kaline (32), Rodriguez (27), Andruw Jones (26), Orlando Cepeda (25) and Eddie Mathews (25).

Pujols, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski could join the MVP hunt with Cabrera, Hamilton and Trout before all is said and done. Even Fielder could enter the conversation with a monster finish, and he’s definitely capable of that.

Cabrera has come close before, and he got my first-place vote in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America balloting when he finished second to Hamilton in 2010. He has finished in the top five in three consecutive years and has five top-five showing overall (two with the Marlins).

In fact, he has received some votes for MVP in each of his nine seasons.

At the age of 29, his time has arrived.

Cabrera deserves to be the league’s MVP this year.

A little less than two months remain. Plenty can happen. Players can get hot or cold. They can get hurt.

But barring some unforeseen change of events, Jose Miguel Cabrera should be the AL MVP.