The Tigers are getting closer and closer and it shouldn’t be long now. As the air chills and the skies darken it’s not really a question of whether they’ll reach the playoffs. It’s a question of whether they’ll be ready when they get there.

That’s what this 10-game home stand is mostly about and no issue is bigger than the health of Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers beat the Royals 6-3 on Friday night to maintain a six-game lead with 15 remaining and the jacketed crowd of 40389 was in a festive mood. It will turn from festive to restless soon because everyone knows this season isn’t just about winning a piddlin’ division crown.

The quest for the World Series is as urgent as ever and the Tigers will need at least a moderately healthy Cabrera and a nasty Justin Verlander to get there. Both are fighting to regain form with periodic signs of improvement. Verlander stuffed the Royals with seven strikeouts and no walks in six-plus innings and I’m done double-checking the gas gauge. Let’s assume his tank isn’t dry and in the postseason he’ll be a vital part of a deep tough rotation.

Cabrera’s situation is trickier because he’s been ailing for nearly seven weeks with abdominal and groin strains. He winces on the field. He hobbles to first base. And lately his timing has been off at the plate.

It’s easy to shriek the Tigers should give him a break and I’m sure they will after actually clinching a third straight division title. But there are two reasons they never put him on the disabled list — because they need his production and because he still produces. You can bet Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland wrestled with the notion but Cabrera’s impact is too important to ignore.