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With Indians’ rotation struggling, the Tigers picked the right time to get hot

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The offense is firing on all cylinders and the rotation is showing signs of strength again.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — If by some miracle, the Tigers won a game in which has all but been a loss in the past. With Anibal Sanchez on the mound, the team has risen to 10 games over the .500 mark for the first time since August 23, 2014 through the end of that season. They’re on a seven-game win streak and gaining ground on the Indians at the perfect time.

“I think we're having better at-bats, without question up and down (the lineup),” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Some of that's mechanical, some of that's concentration. The focus, really, to me, is the guys that aren't really involved in the game. They're all sitting in the dugout and they're focused on the game, they're into the game, they're watching the game, they're pulling for each other.”

Even on a night when the roles were reversed and the bullpen struggled, the offense was there to ensure a win. They’ve done so for four of the last six games, and the seven-game winning streak ranks tops in the majors. Lately, a solid chunk of the contribution has come from the bottom of the lineup, but on Tuesday it was the top of the order that got it done.

But that’s not how the runs got started. Before the No. 1 through 4 hitters drove in eight of the 11 runs on the night, Andrew Romine scorched a leadoff triple in the fifth. Such has been the theme lately where those hitters have either sparked or carried the team, and with Miguel Cabrera back to his old self that just makes the team that much more potent.

Cabrera has been on a hot streak, even before the road White Sox series. From July 19 onward, he's been batting .447/.509/.894 with six home runs and 16 RBI. He's struck out just seven times in those 13 games and scored 12 times. Two hitless days against Chicago and an 0-fer on July 30 have been his only off days since July 18, but it was in Chicago he had a hiccup at an inopportune time.

“He went through a little funk where he wasn't using his legs,” Ausmus said. “At the end of the Chicago series, he recognized it and he was trying to fix it, but a lot of times even when you're fixing it, it takes a few days to take hold. But he looks like where he wants to be now. He's driving the ball the other way, which, for him, is a good sign.

As in-tune as Cabrera and the rest of the offense have been, it’ll still do them good to get J.D. Martinez back in the lineup. He returns on Wednesday to a team itching to have him back regardless of their seven-game win streak. For one night, the Tigers had a workable Sanchez on their hands, but it’s a performance he’ll need to repeat going forward with the loss of Mike Pelfrey to the disabled list.

With their seven-game win streak, the Tigers are a half-game back from tying the Red Sox for the second AL Wild Card, and they’re only three games out in the AL Central. The Indians are 4-6 in their last 10 games and showing signs of weakness. Their starting rotation appears shaky for the first time maybe all year, with three starters struggling of late.

Josh Tomlin has given up 15 runs in his last four starts, including six home runs, and he's averaging 9.32 hits per nine innings. Trevor Bauer, who had held teams to three runs or less in eight straight starts (four of which were one run or fewer) has now given up 17 runs, 11 walks, and five home runs in four starts. His ERA in that time is 6.43.

Carlos Carrasco, who hasn’t given up more than four earned runs since Jun 8 and only twice all year — he gave up five runs but only one was earned on July 10 — had a forgettable start on Tuesday. He gave up eight runs on nine hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Twins of all teams. Their last meeting against the Tigers culminated in a loss after 10 straight wins and their last two losses have been in the double-digits.

The Tigers and Cleveland won’t meet again until September 16, giving both teams plenty of time to either make up ground or get lost in the dust. For the Tigers, they’re going to need the help of other teams to get there, but as they’ve shown lately it can be done. Pelfrey’s loss isn’t so much of a detriment because of his ongoing performance, and Martinez’s return will help shield the team from Sanchez on an off day for now — with Daniel Norris waiting in the wings in Toledo.

Whatever the case, at least for now the Tigers are hot and they’re taking full advantage of the opportunities in front of them. The rotation isn’t perfect but it’s improving — and Jordan Zimmermann’s return helps strengthen that — and the defense has been outstanding. Right now, Detroit is unstoppable.