The Tigers were well on their way to the ALDS last year before a September collapse and an Alexi Casilla single ended their 2009 season and left them on the outside looking in, despite leading the AL Central race for much of the year.
No one took it harder than star Miguel Cabrera, who blamed himself for a deflating September. Cabrera was blasted after news spread that he was drunk between two key games in the race for the AL Central title, during which Cabrera went 0-8 and stranded 10 men on base. Things got even worse when it was revealed that he got into a drunken altercation with his wife that landed him in jail on the same night. Since that night, Cabrera has undergone and embraced treatment for alcoholism and is in Lakeland, FL with the Tigers preparing for the upcoming season.
However, in 2010, Cabrera has the ability to not just rebound from what was an otherwise outstanding year, but finally stake his claim as MVP of the American League.
Despite his off the field troubles, Cabrera has arguably been the major league’s most durable everyday player. Cabrera leads the majors with 793 games played since 2005 and is one of only four players to play in at least 150 games in each of the past five seasons.
Cabrera has exemplified consistency throughout his career. Since his first full season in 2004, Cabrera has never finished the season with a batting average under .292. His career batting average of .311 is also 10th best among active players. But perhaps Cabrera’s most impressive display of consistency is that since 2004, he has finished in the top 25 in batting average, hits, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS.
Although Cabrera’s late-season struggles have been well publicized, he was one of eight players who hit .300 last year and maintained an average of .280 in every month of the season. Among the other seven are reigning MVP’s Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer, and former MVP Ichiro Suzuki.
If Cabrera does indeed win the MVP title, the Tigers will be in dire need of every contribution. After losing in game 163 last year, the Tigers retooled and made several moves during the offseason. They traded all-stars Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, and parted ways with closer Fernando Rodney. Filling the void will be Jose Valverde, Max Scherzer, and Johnny Damon, fresh off a run to the World Series.
The biggest question headed into the year will be the performance of their two rookies, Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. Jackson’s success or failure in the leadoff role could be a factor in Cabrera’s season. If Jackson can hold his own, take pitches, and get on base, it will go a long way in elevating Cabrera’s game this season. Despite his popularity, Granderson struck out far too much to be a prototypical leadoff hitter.
No two players will be more integral to Cabrera’s success than Johnny Damon and Magglio Ordonez. In Johnny Damon, the Tigers get a professional hitter in the two spot. Damon and Ordonez will work pitch counts and get on base in front of Cabrera.
Cabrera has started 2010 off rather well. He has a .320 average in spring training this year. Nevertheless, ultimately Cabrera’s season will be defined by his desire to atone for his mistakes. His abilities have never been in question and he is already one of the game’s premier first baseman. It is hard to imagine a player with such immense talent not winning an MVP award at some point. Cabrera himself has stated that he feels like a new man entering this year. He may have a new title as well.