DETROIT -- The 90-degree temperature by the end of the Tigers' 6-4 win and series sweep over the White Sox on Sunday afternoon was probably enough of a sign that it's too early to call the American League Central in Detroit's favor.
Especially with a nine-game, nine-day road trip to Cleveland, Toronto and Boston coming up, a lead of a game and a half can vanish with one series hiccup. If this series -- really, this homestand -- ends up being the turning point for the Tigers, who have won five in a row and 13 of their last 15, it won't be for the standings.
It's the way the Tigers played that gives this series some weight behind it. They really had been playing better baseball since their road trip to Texas and Tampa Bay, but hadn't always had the results to show for it. This week they had the results, too.
"We knew we'd play good at some point," manager Jim Leyland said. "We're playing good right now, but we have to continue. I mean, it's only July 22. I just want to stay consistent. But even when times were bad early in the season, it was not because of lack of effort or not being ready to play. We just weren't playing very good."
The White Sox scored first in all three games, yet never led at the end of an inning over the entire series. All three times they scored, the Tigers answered back with more runs in the bottom half of the inning, then shut down the Sox in the following frame.
"And that's huge," Leyland said. "Say we hold them in the first and score in the bottom of the first, and then we go back out and give them two or three in the top of the second. It doesn't mean your day's over, but it kind of gets you down a little bit. You want to try to hold them and give yourself a chance to add on some runs, keep them down a little bit. It worked out good."
It happened again on Sunday with the pitcher the White Sox seemed to have the best chance to beat. When three straight two-out singles brought Adam Dunn home in the top of the first, Chicago seemingly had Jacob Turner poised for another rough outing. A 10-pitch walk to Austin Jackson against Phil Humber, then an opposite-field home run by Quintin Berry three pitches later, took the momentum back.
Miguel Cabrera's home run on the next pitch intensified that sense. The Tigers had a 3-1 lead by the time Humber had recorded an out, but Turner rolled off 11 straight outs by the time Tyler Flowers' one-out single gave Chicago its next baserunner in the fifth.
"I was pretty confident he was going to bounce back. He was a No. 1 pick for a reason," catcher Alex Avila said of Turner, who exited after a two-run homer by Alex Rios in the sixth. "He's got great stuff, really poised out there. Just did a good job today. Part of the biggest difference between last start and this start was being able to get his breaking balls over for a strike, being able to expand the zone after that -- and he had a real good fastball, too."
By then, Cabrera had homered again, the 300th of his career, followed by another home run from Brennan Boesch for a 6-1 lead. Turner (1-1) was on his way to his first Major League win in six tries, and the White Sox were looking for a bright side.
"The good news [for us is that] we have a few more games [left with these guys]," Dunn said. "You would rather have these little not-play-so-well [stretches] now than in late August and September. Hopefully, we'll get it out of our system, start playing good and get some momentum when it starts to matter."
By that point, too, Humber was gone, having yielded six runs on seven hits in just three innings. He induced only one ground ball out of the 16 Tigers at-bats, a troubling ratio even in spacious Comerica Park. Only one of the Tigers' runs came on a two-out hit, unlike the previous two games. But that's mainly because they weren't making many outs in the first place.
The White Sox bullpen put up five hitless innings from there, but they couldn't get to Detroit's bullpen -- whose effort was highlighted by Octavio Dotel's 1 2/3 perfect innings, with 18 out of 19 pitches for strikes. Add in Joaquin Benoit's perfect ninth inning for his second save with Jose Valverde unavailable, and the Tigers' bullpen retired Chicago's last eight hitters.
Cabrera became the second Venezuelan-born player to hit 300 career homers, joining the great Andres Galarraga. Yet after the game, Cabrera wasn't focusing on it.
"There's no time for that," he said. "It's time to focus on winning your division. Time to focus on doing your job. Continue to win and that's how it goes right now."
They hope it keeps going like that.