Brennan Boesch

Boesch makes a run at the AL Rookie of the Year Award

If you had to choose between Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch as rookie of the year, which Detroit Tiger would you choose?

Austin Jackson has exceeded all expectations.

He leads the team in hits. He leads the team in steals. He has been a gem in centerfield. In short, he has been the perfect lead-off man for the better part of the season.

But, sorry, he’s not the rookie of the year for this team. That honor belongs to Brennan Boesch. And it has less to do with Jackson and Boesch and everything to do with Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers first baseman is having a season to end all seasons. He finally will make the All-Star Game as a Tiger. He will be invited to take part in the Home Run Derby. And he’ll take his rightful place in the conversation that starts with, “Who is the best player in the game not named Albert Pujols?”

If Cabrera keeps it going and wins the AL MVP, the first person he should thank is Boesch. Because if Cabrera keeps it going, it’s Boesch who kept the pitchers honest. Cabrera is in such a zone right now that he runs the risk of forcing every pitcher to pitch around him. Maybe that’ll still happen. But if it does, Boesch will be there to make them pay. He was the perfect arrival from Toledo when Carlos Guillen went down, and he allowed Cabrera to continue his assault on baseballs in every park.

Sometimes, a little too much credit is given to “protection” in the lineup. Ultimately, it’s still Cabrera doing the damage. He’s the stud. Boesch is the supporting player. But the bottom of the Tigers’ lineup is so offensively challenged that the rookie has been the key to keep it going. Cabrera leads the team with 44 runs scored. He has driven himself home 19 times. thanks to his league-leading homer total. That means he has been driven home by someone beneath him in the lineup 25 times, and you can bet that Boesch has been the man for most of those. Cabrera is the team MVP — but if there were an Oscar-like award for “Best Supporting Hitter,” it would go to Boesch in a landslide.

Any debate is always going to come down like you’re propping up one guy while tearing down the other. And while I’m happy to prop up Boesch, I really don’t want to tear down Jackson. I listed his production to this point. He has been really, really good. But he is trending down just a little bit. In the month of June, he’s hitting just .220 with three extra-base hits, three runs and one walk. He had a monster game the day after the near-perfect game, when he was 4-for-6 with three doubles and two runs. If you remove that game from the equation (totally unfair, I admit), he’s hitting just .159 for the month, with one run and no extra-base hits. He’ll rebound; there’s little doubt about that. But we’re not looking at a guy who will hit .370, as he was in the early part of May.

Both of these guys are vital to this weird quest for the division title. So much was expected of Jackson before the season. So little was expected of Boesch. But so much of the team’s success this year has been thanks to them. Boesch gets the nod at this point ,with the acknowledgment that a lot of that has to do with the man in front of him in the lineup.

Join Free Press sports writer Shawn Windsor as he live-blogs the Tigers-Nationals game on Thursday afternoon at freep.com/sports.