Detroit Tigers: Papa Grande Making a Case to Be the Tigers' MVP of 2011

Ryan Bourdeau@@ryanbourdeauCorrespondent IIAugust 14, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 05:  Relief pitcher Jose Valverde #46 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate after they beat the Kansas City Royals 4-3 in 10 innings at Kauffman Stadium on August 5, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

There has been a ton of talk about Justin Verlander's amazing season that is likely to win him his first of hopefully many Cy Young awards.  Miguel Cabrera is having yet another dominating campaign as far as his stat line is concerned, and Victor Martinez has provided all the Tigers could have hoped for and more since coming to the D.  Brennan Boesch seems to be putting together a very consistent season compared to the Jekyll and Hyde act of last year and Johnny Peralta is putting up career-best numbers.  Alex Avila has come into his own and even Brandon Inge has found his way into many headlines, albeit for all the wrong reasons.  But one player that seems to be flying under radar despite a record-breaking, virtually mistake-free season is the Big Potato himself, Jose Valverde.

If you're like me (and former Diamondbacks announcer Jim Traber—who coined the nickname) you probably have assumed this whole time that Valverde's fitting moniker, Papa Grande, translates to Big Daddy.  Unfortunately we are not quite on the mark as "papa" is Spanish for potato, although the nickname still kind of fits.

Valverde converted his 35th consecutive save opportunity of the season on Saturday—a Tigers record. Valverde's streak of 35 straight from the start of a season is the fifth longest in the Majors since 1969. He trails only Eric Gagne (55 in '03), Brad Lidge (41 in '08), Jose Mesa (38 in '95) and Dennis Eckersley (36 in '92).  With the way Detroit has been edging out close games as of late, it is not out of the question for him to catch Gagne or at least come close.

He has been nearly untouchable in August so far.  His seven August appearances have resulted in seven saves, allowing only 3 hits over that span to go with a 1.29 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP.  Those numbers don't vary much throughout the rest of the year either.  His numbers become all the more important when you consider how ineffective the rest of the bullpen has been for the majority of the season.

So how is it that a man who has outperformed the standard set by the Tigers' last Cy Young award winner—Willie Hernandez in '84—is going so relatively unheralded?  Especially a man who isn't exactly shy about celebrating his accomplishments?

I am not sure of the answer to that question but there is one thing I am sure of: the Tigers would not be sitting in the driver's seat of the AL Central without Papa Grande.