DETROIT (AP) — If Ron Gardenhire had a vote for AL MVP, he would cast it for Miguel Cabrera.
“I’m just tipping my hat to Cabrera, he’s the best player in this league,” the Minnesota manager said Friday before the series opener in Detroit was postponed by rain. “He’s going for a Triple Crown, that’s an MVP season. His team is in a playoff hunt not solely dependent on him, but he’s the reason they’re in it right now.”
The Tigers gained ground in the playoff race hours after the washout, pulling within 1½ games of AL Central-leading Chicago when the White Sox lost 6-2 at the Los Angeles Angels. Detroit also moved within 5½ games of Oakland for the second wild card.
The rainout will be made up Sunday night as part of a doubleheader.
Detroit will send Doug Fister (9-9) to the mound Saturday afternoon — not Rick Porcello, who was scheduled to start Friday night — and the Twins plan to stick with Samuel Deduno (6-4) in the series opener.
The Tigers will pitch Drew Smyly in one of Sunday’s games and might have Max Scherzer available five days after his previous outing was cut short by a fatigued right shoulder. Minnesota will have Scott Diamond on the mound in the first game of the doubleheader and P.J. Walters in the nightcap.
Even though the Twins are playing for only pride, Gardenhire said they’ll take each game seriously because there’s a lot at stake for many teams.
“Out of respect for the game, you go out and give them everything you have,” Gardenhire said. “This atmosphere here does lift you up a little bit.”
Cabrera leads the AL with a .333 batting average and 130 RBIs — with a relatively comfortable cushion in each category — and his 41 homers are one behind league leader Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers.
“I think he’s the best hitter in the league,” Gardenhire said. “All-around power and the whole package — I don’t think there’s anybody that close to him.”
With a little less than two weeks left in the regular season, he has a legitimate shot to be baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967 when Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski led with AL with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs and 121 RBIs.
Gardenhire discounts the statistical sabermetric approach that favors Los Angeles rookie Mike Trout over Cabrera in the MVP race.
“If you’re going for the Triple Crown and you’ve got those numbers, you can saber all you want to,” Gardenhire said. “I know Trout is good, too. It doesn’t make much sense to me to be arguing about this.”
Tigers catcher Alex Avila agreed.
“What’s pretty crazy is people are talking about him winning a Triple Crown, but that he’s second in MVP to Mike Trout,” Avila said. “That’s pretty ridiculous.”
“I don’t even want to talk about it because it’ll get me upset.”
Cabrera isn’t really eager to talk about the hot topic because he’s genuinely more interested in Detroit playing in consecutive postseasons, an accomplishment the franchise hasn’t pulled off since the 1934-35 seasons.
“We need to focus on winning games,” he said.
Cabrera acknowledged it has been awkward to hear the Comerica Park crowd chanting, “M-V-P! M-V-P!” when he has stepped to the plate recently.
“It’s kind of weird for me,” he said.
Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, said Cabrera’s chances will improve if he can help the Tigers catch Chicago.
“It would be an easier decision if Detroit gets into the playoffs,” Morneau said. “He changed positions — that hasn’t been talked about.”
When designated hitter Victor Martinez needed surgery during the winter and the Tigers signed first baseman Prince Fielder, they needed to move Cabrera from first to third and he did so without a bit of resistance.
“I said, ‘Yes,’ right away,” Cabrera recalled.
Cabrera hasn’t been a Gold Glove candidate at third base, but he hasn’t been awful as some expected him to be, with 13 errors in 148 games. The burly slugger — listed as 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds — isn’t going to burn up the basepaths.
Trout, meanwhile, has an all-around game that gives him an edge over Cabrera in sabermetrics.
“It’s not like the kid, Trout, is not certainly a deserving candidate,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not downplaying what Trout’s done.
“I mean, the guy’s a potential Triple Crown winner. If he wins the Triple Crown and sabermetrics is going to say that Trout should be the MVP that would be embarrassing to every writer in baseball if a guy won the Triple Crown and didn’t win the MVP.”
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