DETROIT -- The Tigers lost their AL Central lead down the stretch last year in part because they couldn't rack up wins against struggling teams like the Royals when they needed them. As they try to see what they can do over the season's final six weeks, at least they can say that isn't the case this year.
Whether they can get back within striking distance in the AL Central is going to depend on a lot more than what they can control. But after a 12-3 romp over the Royals marked their fourth straight victory, their longest winning streak since the week before the All-Star break, they've crawled within a game of the .500 mark.
They haven't been this close to break-even since August 4. They're still 10 games behind the division-leading Twins, who lost Monday, but they hadn't even been that close since August 10. They're playing good baseball against the teams they're expected to play well against, outscoring Cleveland and Kansas City by a combined 31-6 margin, and they've won seven of their last 10 games dating back to their last road trip.
After a month they'd love to forget against teams with winning records, they seem to have recovered. On Monday, they managed to score a dozen runs not only without a home run, but with just four extra-base hits -- all doubles. They went 9-for-17 with runners in scoring position, defying their season average of .250 in those situations, and had three players with three RBIs each.
And they wore down a team that went to three extra-inning games against the White Sox in a 24-hour stretch Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.
"We caught them at the right time tonight," manager Jim Leyland said. "That won't happen tomorrow. It was good to see everybody throw some hits in, big hits, knocking in runs with singles and doubles."
Those timely hits included two in what is developing as one of the biggest situations they face over the final month, making opponents pay for intentionally walking Miguel Cabrera. The Royals did it twice on Monday, taking their chances against the fifth hitter of the night, Ryan Raburn.
Leyland has talked about the risk he runs when he rotates hitters behind Cabrera. Guys who might be batting well in other parts of the order, especially lower, might feel the need to do too much when they bat behind Cabrera. That didn't seem to be a problem with Raburn.
Starter Bruce Chen's final four pitches in his outing were intentional tosses to standing catcher Jason Kendall, putting Cabrera on base in the fifth inning with Will Rhymes standing on first and one man out. Reliever Jesse Chavez's first pitch of the night was a fastball low and over the plate to Raburn, who turned and sent it into the left-field corner to send Rhymes home and Cabrera to third, where he scored on Brandon Inge's sacrifice fly.
"In that situation, you can go up and down the American League and you can go up and down the National League, there's not maybe two hitters that are in Cabrera's class," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "For me, you just can't let him beat you. You just can't. Raburn did a nice job of making sure he did beat us."
Chen (8-7) held the Tigers to two runs over five innings for a victory at Kauffman Stadium back in June. Detroit roughed him up for five runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings Monday.
Chavez was still in the game and reeling when Johnny Damon's RBI single put runners at second and third with one out and Cabrera up. Again, the Royals walked him to face Raburn. Again, Raburn pounced on the first pitch, this one a slider, and grounded it through the left side to score two.
Seven straight Tigers reached base safely with one out, and Raburn was the first of three straight to get RBI hits on ground balls to left. Inge capped the stretch with a double to left, the only extra-base hit in the bunch, to drive in two and fuel the seven-run surge.
"Normally in the mix of that is a home run, a two-run homer," Leyland said. "But to see good at-bats and base hits, not trying to do too much, just taking what's there, it's nice to see everybody taking a good approach. We did that pretty much throughout the lineup."
Raburn had three hits on the night. Damon, who was claimed on waivers by the Red Sox Monday afternoon and faces a Wednesday afternoon deadline to decide whether to accept a trade, remained in the starting lineup and went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
The offensive outburst helped Jeremy Bonderman (7-9) earn his first win since August 3 after losing his last three starts. He allowed two hits and two runs to Gregor Blanco but limited the damage to that, scattering eight hits over six innings.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.