September 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers' Miguel Cabrera has faded, but it won't cost him the MVP

Could Miguel Cabrera’s fade to the finish line cost him a second consecutive Most Valuable Player award?

Probably not.

But prospective voters absolutely must give it some consideration – given his huge finish in 2012, coupled with Mike Trout’s fade, was a major selling point in giving Cabrera his first MVP win, after a bevy of close calls.

With the Tigers clawing for a playoff spot late in 2012, Cabrera hit .333 in the final month, with 11 homers, 30 RBIs and a whopping 1.071 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages). He led the Tigers to the AL Central crown, and won a crown of his own (Triple Crown) along the way. Meanwhile, his chief competition for the MVP, Angels super rookie Mike Trout, had a slash line of .289/.400/.500 with five homers and nine RBIs in the same span. Trout’s OPS was .900.

Cabrera, for a variety of reasons and his monster September/early October high among them, ran away with the MVP.

So, how is it shaping up this year, with the same two stars front and center (all due respect to Orioles slugger Chris Davis)?

It’s only fair to again look at their finishes.

* Cabrera, ailing yet still playing, in September: .246/.380/.308, with an OPS of .688. He has one home run and seven RBIs.

* Trout: .282/.456/.487, with an OPS of .943. He’s had three homers and 10 RBIs.

Trout has finished much stronger, as Cabrera has looked liked a shell of himself, dealing with an abdomen ailment, and now a groin injury. But has Trout had such a great September to make a difference, like Cabrera did in 2012? That’s debatable.

Cabrera also will win his third straight batting title, and possibly his second consecutive RBI title. Plus, his OPS, 1.077, will be a career high, and easily best in baseball. By most accounts, he’s had an even better season than last. If not for injuries, there’d be no doubt.

Then there’s this popular argument: The Tigers are going to the postseason, and the Angels never seriously contended. That rightly matters when talking MVP.

So I suspect the vast majority of the 30 MVP voters still will side with Cabrera. But there’s no harm in weighing all the factors. After all, that’s what they did a year ago.

Old tricks

Early this spring, I was mingling outside the Indians clubhouse at Progressive Field when something caught my eye: It was a blown-up picture of Jason Giambi, age 42 and decked out in gray stubble, diving head-first into first base.

The message to the clubhouse was clear: If this old fogey can play hard, well, so best you.

Well, the old fogey did it again Tuesday night – delivering one of the most dramatic home runs of the 2013 MLB season. With two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the White Sox up a run after Indians closer Chris Perez had imploded again moments earlier, Giambi was sent by Terry Francona to pinch-hit. And he delivered with a mighty swat and a game-winning homer to keep the Indians on the inside of the playoff bubble.

It also postponed the Tigers’ celebration by 24 hours.

That was the second walk-off homer of the year for Giambi, who’s the oldest player in major league history ever to hit one. Not bad for a part-time hitter in the sunset of his career, batting .185 with nine homers and 31 RBIs on the season.

Of course, it was quite clear early on that on-field production, alone, wouldn’t define Giambi’s tenure with the Indians. The Indians knew this when they signed the man who, before coming aboard, almost was named Rockies manager. GM Chris Antonetti brought in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn for numbers. He wanted Giambi’s presence, a statistic you can’t measure with WAR or OPS, but rather by words like this.

“The guy’s been around a really long time,” ex-Tiger Ryan Raburn, another shrewd offseason pickup by the Indians (Giambi and Scott Kazmir were the others), told me that spring afternoon in Cleveland. “To be honest with you, I just try to take after the way he’s been around the clubhouse.

“I don’t even know how to explain it. Just one of the best guys you can possibly have around the baseball field and the clubhouse.”

And, as it turns out, at bat in the ninth inning, with the season practically on the line.

Minors grab-bag

* Phil Nevin didn’t leave the Tigers on his own. And he’s not really sure why the Tigers showed him the door, after two seasons managing Triple A Toledo following one year at Double A Erie.

“I really don’t know what happened, to be honest,” Nevin told me in a text Wednesday.

The Toledo gig went to Larry Parrish – for the fourth time – after the Tiger gave him a year at Single A West Michigan.

But Nevin harbors no ill will. The Tigers gave him his first shot at managing a major league-affiliated minor league team, and he hopes to take that experience and continue on the job for another organization.

“I enjoyed my time with the Tigers,” said Nevin, 42, “and I wish ’em the best.”

* Tigers prospect Connor Harrell played much of this season at West Michigan, and he got a great, up-close look at stud pitching prospect Corey Knebel. Here’s what one top 2013 draft pick said of another.

“He was very impressive,” Harrell said. “You don’t see many guys like him. He was able to pair good command and electric stuff, and that’s tough to beat.”

Knebel is heading to fall ball in Arizona, and likely will continue in relief – his preferred role, and his role at the University of Texas. And given his age (22) and high-octane arsenal, the right-hander could be on track to pitch in Detroit’s bullpen sometime in 2014.

Parting shot

The Tigers have a new magic number.

It is 11.

That’s how many wins it’ll take to bring the city its first world championship since 1984.

Miguel Cabrera has one home run and seven RBIs in September. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News