DETROIT -- It will be remembered as a disappointing first half of the season for the Tigers, but in their final week leading up to the All-Star break they proved there's certainly a lot to look forward to.
The red-hot Tigers concluded the first half of their season by sweeping the Royals and extending their win streak to five with a 7-1 victory on Sunday afternoon before 36,693 at Comerica Park.
For manager Jim Leyland, ending on a strong note was about the team finally putting together the combination of things it takes to win ballgames.
"It's what I talked about all year. It's big hits, some big home runs, hitting the ball out of the ballpark, [we] got good pitching, got good bullpen [pitching]," Leyland said. "There's no secret what it takes to win. That's just the way it is."
Detroit got all of the above on Sunday. It started with a solid outing from right-hander Max Scherzer, who missed Tuesday's start after tweaking his left hamstring. He returned to fire seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball as he improved to 8-5.
The right-hander credited his success to staying ahead in the count with a slider-changeup combination that resulted in seven strikeouts and one walk. The walk issued was to Alex Gordon to open the game, but Scherzer didn't allow another batter to reach even a three-ball count until the sixth inning.
"I feel being able to locate my fastball and, obviously, where my slider and my changeup are, are at the best of my career [in] being able to be consistent with it from start to start," Scherzer said. "I think that's why I'm generating a lot more swing and misses."
The 27-year-old Scherzer has recorded quality starts in six of his past seven outings. He's also fanned 49 batters in that span as he enters the All-Star break ranked third in the American League in strikeouts.
Aside from a fifth-inning home run by Salvador Perez, Scherzer cruised through the afternoon. And so did the Tigers' offense against their fifth straight left-hander in Royals starter Everett Teaford.
With 12 hits on Sunday, the Tigers are batting .317 with 52 hits and 31 runs scored during their current five-game streak.
Those hits again came from all parts of the order. Prince Fielder did what he normally does, hitting a monster, three-run home run on the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning. Delmon Young hit his fourth homer in as many days -- the longest streak by a Tigers hitter since Marcus Thames homered in five straight from June 13-17 in 2008. And Jhonny Peralta sent one over the fence for the first time since May 29.
"That's what we need," said Leyland, of his Nos. 5, 6 and 7 hitters going a combined 7-for-12 with two doubles, two home runs, four runs scored and four RBIs. "That's what we had last year, and that's what we need this year if we're going to make our run."
That run is still very possible with no team in the AL Central running away with the division lead.
The Tigers are just 3 1/2 games back of the first-place White Sox despite being two games above .500 for the first time since April 25. In addition, Detroit is just now starting to play its best baseball.
"I've managed for a long time and ... I've seen a lot of races go to the wire," Leyland said. "And there's very few races that are won before the All-Star break. It's not impossible to climb that hill."
On one hand, the break comes at perhaps the worst time with the Tigers having finally put it together. On the other, the pressure of being under .500 with the break approaching might have lit a fire beneath the group.
Leyland just hopes his club bring its A-game back in five days against Baltimore.
"Hopefully they'll come back fresh in the second half," Leyland said. "They deserve it. They worked hard. Effort has not been a problem in the first half. We haven't got enough wins, but effort hasn't been a problem."
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.