DETROIT — Manager Jim Leyland said he learned something about his team on Sunday.
For the first time all season, the Tigers were without MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera in the lineup.
They didn’t flinch.
Max Scherzer had another stellar outing, taking back the major-league strikeout lead (with nine for a season total of 195) from teammate Justin Verlander.
Offensively, Andy Dirks (RBI triple, batting third in Cabrera’s spot), Prince Fielder (two-run home run), Delmon Young (solo home run) and Quintin Berry (sacrifice fly) picked up the slack in Cabrera’s absence.
“I thought it was really good,” Leyland said. “I think they knew with the big guy out of there. I think some guys really stepped up and responded. I’m proud of them.”
The Tigers went 5-1 during the week and 6-3 overall on the home stand, which was not bad in Leyland’s estimation.
“I think it was fine,” Leyland said. “It was good. We’re not going to win every game the rest of the way, that’s for sure.
“We’ve got to try to figure out some way of playing better than the White Sox. We’re behind them, so we’ve got to figure out how to get three games, or whatever it is, better than them throughout this last stretch because they’ve been answering every bell so far.”
Leyland wasn’t kidding about the White Sox (71-55), who have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, just as the Tigers (69-58) have. The White Sox have won six in a row and remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers in the Central Division.
The two teams will meet up again in Detroit this coming weekend.
The Tigers are hopeful that two days off will help Cabrera’s ankle heal enough to let him return to third base once they start their series in Kansas City Tuesday.
If not, perhaps the rest of the Tigers who stepped up in his absence will continue to do well.
Monday: Off day.
Tuesday: TIGERS 5, Blue Jays 3. Scherzer continued his winning ways, out-pitching Toronto’s Ricky Romero, who managed to walk eight without striking a single batter out. Scherzer took over the league lead in strikeouts.
Wednesday: TIGERS 3, Blue Jays 2. Anibal Sanchez skipped a start and rebounded from a couple of poor outings to allow just one earned run on five hits. He walked two and struck out six in 6 2/3 innings. Catcher Alex Avila ended the game by throwing out 45-year-old Omar Vizquel trying to steal second.
Thursday: TIGERS 3, Blue Jays 2, 11 innings. Avila hit the game-winning single in the bottom of the 11th to score pinch runner Quintin Berry. But Avila’s heroics might not have mattered had Austin Jackson not made a diving catch of Anthony Gose’s flyball in the 10th.
Friday: ANGELS 2, Tigers 1. For the second straight start, Rick Porcello was a hard-luck loser, allowing just two runs on seven hits. He walked one and struck out six in six innings. Cabrera hit his 32nd home run.
Saturday: TIGERS 5, Angels 3. The Tigers rallied from a 3-0 deficit, scoring all five runs with two outs. Jhonny Peralta had the big hit, a two-run double in the eighth. Drew Smyly overcame three Tigers errors, pitching well in his first big-league start since July 6.
Sunday: TIGERS 5, Angels 2. Scherzer struck out nine, reclaiming the strikeout lead from Verlander. Scherzer is 14-6, one victory shy of his career high set last season. A sore right ankle kept Cabrera out of the lineup for the first time this season.
Scherzer: He became the first Tigers pitcher since 1918 to have eight or more strikeouts in eight straight starts. Scherzer also leads the team in wins, two more than Verlander.
Young: He hit a home run Sunday and went 3-for-4 Saturday. He’s batting .324 in his last 18 games.
Jackson: He was 0-for-13 in the three-game series against the Angels and hit only .231 on the home stand. Leyland blamed himself for not playing Berry in center field and giving Jackson two days off with the off day Monday.
Avila: Despite his game-winning hit Thursday, Avila is hitting only .125 (4-for-32) in his last 10 games. He also has 12 strikeouts in that span.
Monday: Off day.
Tuesday: Tigers (Verlander) at Royals (Luis Mendoza), 8:10 p.m.
Wednesday: Tigers (Sanchez) at Royals (Bruce Chen), 8:10 p.m.
Thursday: Tigers (Porcello) at Royals (Jeremy Guthrie), 8:10 p.m.
Friday: White Sox (Gavin Floyd) at Tigers (Doug Fister/Smyly), 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: White Sox (Francisco Liriano) at Tigers (Scherzer) , 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: White Sox (Chris Sale) at Tigers (Verlander), 8:06 p.m.