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Hardware might not elude Tigers

Hardware might not elude Tigers

DETROIT -- The Tigers have had a month to think about what went wrong with their season. Finally, awards season gives them a chance to think about what went right.

It's entirely possible -- maybe even likely -- that the Tigers could be shut out once baseball's end-of-season honors conclude next week. While the Tigers' offensive struggles overtook the strengths they had in pitching and defense, it also rather shrouded some of the individual performances that carried them on that end, from Gerald Laird's standout season behind the plate to Justin Verlander's outright dominance on the mound.

Now is the time for those performances to gather some attention. And while they might not result in any hardware, they're going to draw some much-deserved recognition for helping keep a flawed team in the thick of a division race until the 163rd game of the season.

Three of the more interesting cases come Tuesday, when Gold Glove Award winners are announced. For Laird, Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson, the results should be interesting.

Recent history argues that Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the American League's All-Star starter behind the plate the last two seasons and last year's Gold Glove winner, will repeat. Though he threw out just 26 percent of would-be basestealers, his lowest rate in six Major League seasons, he also faced just 73 attempts, a sign of the respect his skill has earned him. His reputation behind the plate is well known, and he committed just three errors for the second straight year.

Mauer also put up a potential MVP season at the plate, winning a second straight batting title with a .365 average to go with 28 homers and 96 RBIs.

Laird, who started a career-high 123 games after the Tigers traded for him last winter, led AL catchers in a landslide by throwing out 42 percent (42-of-101) of runners who tried to steal on him. He also put up a .997 fielding percentage by committing three errors in 925 total chances, also tops in the league, and posting a league-high 78 assists. Only Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski turned more double plays (eight) than Laird (seven).

What could doom Laird's chances, ironically, is his offense. Just two AL players with at least 450 plate appearances posted a lower batting average than Laird's .225 clip, and only Yuniesky Betancourt hit for a lower OPS than Laird's .626 mark.

For Inge and Granderson, by contrast, the strength of their cases isn't on the stats sheet, but on the highlight reels. Inge, in fact, ranked last among everyday AL third basemen with a .955 fielding percentage and 20 errors. Yet his athletic range and ability for diving stops made him the defensive strength manager Jim Leyland hoped he would be when the Tigers moved him back to third full-time this year. His 444 total chances led his position, and only Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria turned more double plays.

Seattle's Adrian Beltre has won the last two AL Gold Gloves at third, but his injury-shortened season might have given Longoria a chance to win it in his first full big league campaign.

In the outfield, establishment arguably means more than at any other position. Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki have won Gold Gloves every year since 2001, and they're expected to repeat once more. However, Grady Sizemore's injury-shortened season leaves an opening for someone to fill.

Granderson could have a case. His 407 total chances and 400 putouts ranked second among AL center fielders behind Seattle's Franklin Gutierrez, and his 9.56 Zone Rating -- a measurement by STATS Inc. to track the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his perceived defensive zone -- trailed only Toronto's Vernon Wells and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury.

Again, however, the best argument in Granderson's favor is the collection of catches he made, and the situations in which he made them. His leaping catch at the fence in Cleveland to rob Sizemore of a game-tying homer arguably ranked among the Tigers' plays of the year, and his diving grab to take a potential game-tying hit away from Chicago's Carlos Quentin salvaged the win that forced a one-game tiebreaker for the AL Central.

Two other Tigers will watch their awards fate unfold next week. While Rick Porcello isn't favored to win AL Rookie of the Year honors, which will be announced next Monday, his 14-win season and his stingy performance in the AL Central tiebreaker give him a case in a strong field of candidates. Next Tuesday will reveal AL Cy Young Award voting, where Justin Verlander's Major League-leading 269 strikeouts and lead-sharing 19 wins give him an case alongside Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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