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Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski had their chat about Miguel Cabrera's six-week trip to the disabled list, and while neither man is offering details, you can conclude from past habits the Tigers are going in one direction minus Cabrera.

Forward.

It's the only way, Ilitch, the Tigers owner, and Dombrowski, the team's general manager, can afford to approach a playoff race when the Tigers are five games from first place in the American League Central.

The Tigers' job is unenviable but simple. Survive 40 games minus one of the best hitters in baseball history and look forward to a stretch-run playoff chase that, by mid-August, should restore Cabrera to his everyday role as Tigers demolition expert.

Can they realistically expect to contend when, even with Cabrera, the team was barely above .500?

Yes. But it's contingent on a handful of things happening.

Victor Martinez has to hit .300 from each side of the plate, which is doable, unless his bothersome left knee sabotages his run-production against right-handers, in which case the Tigers are cooked.

But if he can return to form as a switch-hitting ace in the No. 3 spot, the Tigers can hang in, all because J.D. Martinez has now become in the cleanup spot what Victor Martinez was to Cabrera when he protected the team's superpower hitter and knocked in runs Cabrera was denied by way of intentional walks or egregiously cautious pitching.

Step two for the Tigers will be for the top of the order to cooperate: Ian Kinsler must have an achievable .700-plus OPS at the leadoff spot, which will get the job done, particularly if new No. 2 hitter Yoenis Cespedes can make even the smallest improvement with his pitch selection.

The third step, offensively, anyway, will be for Nick Castellanos to begin blossoming into the hitter he should, and likely will, become. He is still 23 and his youth explains fully why he had a tough spring that looks as if it might finally be giving way to what could be a strong second half.

If all of the above happens – and it could – the Tigers have only one more major move to make ahead of Cabrera's return to what could still be in mid-August a contending playoff team.

Dombrowski will need to add the starting pitcher he, without question, is hunting in the weeks ahead of a July 31 trade deadline.

Count on the GM to score in his annual search for a starter. He has just enough minor-league trade chips to get an innings-eater who would replace, for now, Shane Greene as Greene fights at Triple A Toledo to find his rhythm.

The Tigers bullpen will remain an issue, probably non-lethal, given Joakim Soria's reliability as a closer and the probability manager Brad Ausmus can stitch together enough serviceable help in any particular game.

And so it will come down to three areas, offensively: Kinsler, Victor Martinez from the left side of the plate, and a good second half from Castellanos.

Put those elements together, as the Tigers plausibly can do, and with Dombrowski hauling in a starter, as he seems always able to do, Detroit can still be in play for a playoff ticket when Cabrera returns, presumably, in August.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/Lynn_Henning


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