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RickPorcelloThe Tigers have been mentioned in pretty much every trade rumor involving a starting pitcher for the better part of a month and a half, but their rotation has taken a big step forward over the past few weeks.

Rick Porcello has tended to be the whipping boy of the rotation amongst Tigers fans. He doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, and it seems like when he’s off, he’s way off. But Porcello has been quite good since the calendar moved to June. In a stretch that’s covered nine starts, Rick has posted a 3.54 ERA (with a FIP around 2.96). His strikeout rate has continued to be a bit low, at 5.23 per nine innings, but he’s really limited the walks (2.03 per nine innings), and has kept the ball from leaving the yard (just one home run allowed). And, most importantly, the Tigers have won seven of the nine games (not that he directly controls this or anything).

On Saturday, Rick Porcello was at his best against the Chicago White Sox. With four strikeouts in eight innings he didn’t miss a ton of bats, but he did command all of his pitches, induced more ground balls than fly balls, didn’t walk anyone, and benefited from a couple of double-plays turned behind him. The White Sox could only muster one run on five hits (all singles) against him.

For Porcello, success always starts and ends with his two-seam fastball, and he certainly had it working on Saturday afternoon. He succeeded at locating the two-seamer in the bottom half of the strike zone which served two purposes (1) it resulted in a lot of ground balls and (2) it set up his slider nicely as a swing-and-miss pitch when located down-and-away to right handed hitters (or down-and-in to lefties).

Jim Leyland was quoted this week saying that he wanted to see Rick develop more consistency with his slider. I think we saw him do just that this weekend.

It was another all-around solid offensive day for the Tigers’ offense. The team combined for ten hits, but all seven runs were scored on three hits, and all were scored with two outs. Austin Jackson lead off the scoring in the bottom of the fifth inning with a two-out double off of Chris Sale, Brennan Boesch knocked a three-run home run one inning later (the first homer by a lefty off of Sale this season), and Austin Jackson provided some insurance with a single in the eighth that plated two more runs.

The win lifts Detroit above Chicago by a half game, the first time the Tigers have sat atop the division since early May. There’s still a lot of baseball left, but the Tigers have been playing unbelievable baseball for a little while now, going 25-12 in their last 37 games (that’s just two series losses in their last 12 series).

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.