October 2012


There was Marco Scutaro, standing on second base, having just hit a double that drove in what would ultimately be a World Series winning run. He looked stern, but content. On the other side of the diamond, Ryan Theriot was popping back up from a slide across home plate, and sprung up screaming. The dugout was engulfed in anarchy.

The San Francisco Giants were now three outs away from winning a World Series. And the feeling was immediately one of inevitability. This was going to happen. Propelled by an incredible rotation, timely hitting, an MVP catcher and a rolodex of role players like Scutaro, the Giants were just minutes from capping a legendary year.

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Just a few days after the St. Louis Cardinals had pushed them within a game of elimination, the San Francisco Giants were standing in a downpour, celebrating the final out of a 9-0 drubbing in Game 7 of the NLCS.

In an October packed with improbable outcomes in both leagues, the Giants’ roaring comeback topped every storyline. Where Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner failed, journeyman Ryan Vogelsong and a resurgent Barry Zito thrived. While Bustery Posey and Brandon Belt were relatively quiet, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence paced the lineup.

And in the middle of it all was Marco Scutaro, an afterthought plugged into second base at the trade deadline, batting .500 and propelling the Giants to another pennant. There was Scutaro, who had spent more than half of his Major League career working to prove that he deserved a spot in a starting lineup, holding his NLCS MVP trophy, his 14 hits tying an LCS series record.

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I apologize. This barely counts as a baseball card.

Nothing brings out the worst in baseball fans and writers quite like a good ideological battle disguised as an MVP debate. And it’s as annoying as any late-season collapse or New York-based division title.

In one corner is Mike Trout, the Angels’ wunderkind center fielder who burst on the scene as summer approached. He already plays the position as well as anyone, he leads the American League with 48 stolen bases, and his 30 home runs and .963 OPS are remarkable in their own right.

His 10.7 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference, is good for first in the American League. FanGraphs has him at 10.3 by their calculations. But whatever the number, it doesn’t take much hard analysis to see that Trout is head-and-shoulders above most of his peers this season. The fact that he’s only 21 makes him as tantalizing a rookie as 19-year-old Doc Gooden for the 1984 New York Mets.

On the other side is Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ re-converted third baseman who has come on incredibly strong in the second half to lead the league in the three Triple Crown categories — batting average, home runs and RBI — while pushing Detroit past the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central title. Cabrera has been a tremendously talented, albeit troubled, hitter his entire career, but he’s saved his greatest performance for this season , and it’s just in time to help the Tigers get back into the playoffs. And he’s still only 29. He could have an encore performance in his bat still.

A little while after the World Series, one of these two is going to win the AL’s Most Valuable Player trophy. It’s either going to the rookie who has played like Fred Lynn stuck out of time or the veteran who pushed his team through a heated pennant race.

But thanks to hotheads, jerks and alarmists, it can’t be that simple. (more…)