The Tigers slugger will try to improve his Triple Crown numbers in the Twins' final 2012 series at Target Field.
Target Field is almost ready to close for the winter. Soon, the snow will fly over groundskeeper Larry DiVito's immaculate green lawn, and the Twins will begin preparing in earnest for 2013.
But before finishing in Toronto next week, the Twins have one more home series, three games starting Friday night against the Tigers that will be featured prominently on the national highlight shows. For a team that has been out of contention for months, the Twins received a perfect draw for their home finale.
Every game will feel like October for the Tigers, who are battling the White Sox for the American League Central title. Meanwhile, Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera is vying to become the majors' first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, and part of his challenge is fending off Twins catcher Joe Mauer in the batting race.
"There's Mauer and Cabrera, the Triple Crown and Cabrera, Cabrera and [the Angels' Mike] Trout for MVP, and the Tigers trying to get to the postseason," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said, ticking off the weekend story lines.
Don't forget the Cy Young race, as Justin Verlander's start Saturday will be his regular-season finale, unless the Tigers and White Sox finish tied and need a one-game playoff.
"I don't know if you could ask for anything more to evaluate your guys than stuff like that, which is great," Ryan said. "There's a lot of Cabrera going on, but for us, there's eight or nine guys we're looking at to see whether or not they can go and compete against that type of club."
The Twins went 2-1 in Detroit last weekend, sweeping Sunday's doubleheader with strong starting pitching from Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters, who are lined up to pitch the next two games.
Liam Hendriks will face the Tigers on Sunday after disappointing the Twins on Monday, when he gave up four home runs in a 6-3 loss to the Yankees. He had stopped his 17-start winless streak in his previous start, but that came against the last-place Indians.
"I think [these starts against contenders] are a measuring stick for Hendriks," Ryan said. "He's got to do a better job keeping us in the game."
One key will be stopping Cabrera, or at least limiting his damage. In 15 games this year against the Twins, he is batting .400 with five homers and 23 RBI. With Prince Fielder batting behind him, Cabrera gets plenty of chances to hit; the Twins have walked him in only six of 67 plate appearances this year.
"It's kind of fun to see a guy like that chasing a Triple Crown," Mauer said. "He's having a great year this year, but his numbers in the other years aren't far off, either. This is a guy who's been consistent over nine years."
Last weekend, the Twins were trying to think of a comparable force to Cabrera.
"I've seen [Albert] Pujols a little bit," Mauer said. "I'm a little more familiar with Cabrera. He kind of reminds me of Manny Ramirez back when he was with Boston -- a guy that isn't going to miss a mistake and doesn't have too many holes. I would put those two as probably the top righthanded hitters I've seen."
Mauer is batting .323, and Cabrera is at .326 (with 42 home runs and 133 RBI). In the MVP debate, Trout supporters are quick to point to his superior defense and baserunning. Trout is one of the game's premier center fielders, and entering Thursday the 21-year-old was 47-for-51 in stolen base attempts. Cabrera, 29, is a subpar defender at third base and a slow baserunner.
One statistic that attempts to measure a player's all-around impact -- including baserunning and defense -- is WAR (wins above replacement). According to Baseball-Reference.com, Trout began Thursday with a 10.6 WAR, compared to 6.6 for Cabrera.
But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is among those who consider Cabrera the best choice for MVP.
"Probably the most important thing that's happened with Cabrera is him agreeing to move to third base, leave his position [first base], just to try to win," Gardenhire said. "They bring in Fielder, and it says a lot about a guy who's at the top to just go say, 'No problem, I'll go over there.'
"Not everybody would do that in his position."
The writers cast their votes next week. Cabrera has a chance to add some last-week heroics to his candidacy the way Boston's Carl Yastrzemski did in 1967, when he won the Triple Crown and MVP.
|St. Louis - LP: K. Siegrist||6||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm||7|
|Toronto||4||Top 8th Inning|
|Arizona||4||Top 7th Inning|
|Washington||4||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Boston||3||Bottom 7th Inning|
|San Diego||5||Bottom 6th Inning|
|Oakland||0||Top 5th Inning|
|NY Mets||0||Bottom 5th Inning|
|Miami||0||Top 6th Inning|
|Chicago WSox||7||Top 5th Inning|
|Cleveland||1||Bottom 5th Inning|
|Pittsburgh||0||Top 4th Inning|
|Detroit - D. Smyly||9:05 PM|
|LA Angels - T. Skaggs|
|Baltimore - K. Gausman||9:10 PM|
|Seattle - F. Hernandez|
|Los Angeles - Z. Greinke||9:15 PM|
|San Francisco - T. Lincecum|
|Chivas USA||8:30 PM|
|Ottawa||7/26/14 6:00 PM|
|Toronto||7/26/14 9:00 PM|
|Winnipeg||7/31/14 6:00 PM|
|Toronto||8/1/14 6:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||8/1/14 9:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||8/2/14 6:00 PM|
|Chicago||76||4th Qtr 0:59|
|San Antonio||61||4th Qtr|