The next three days could determine the AL Central champion, and the most pivotal hours will come Tuesday.
Detroit (83-72) had a comfortable seven-game cushion in the division on Sept. 6, but that lead has dwindled to two as the Tigers have dropped 11 of 19 while the Twins (81-74) are 11-2 since Sept. 13.
Detroit has been tied or alone atop the division since May 10. No team has ever lost the title in the last week of the season after leading for that long.
“I thought it would go down to the wire and obviously that’s going to be the case,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I hope (my players) have some butterflies, but there’s a difference between nervous and scared.”
Minnesota’s surge includes winning two of three home games against Detroit from Sept. 18-20. However, the scene has now shifted to Comerica Park, where the Tigers are 48-26 this season.
They’ll also start one of the AL’s top rookies and their All-Star ace in Tuesday’s doubleheader.
Rick Porcello(notes) (14-9, 4.14 ERA) is 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA in his last six starts, boosting his chances to win AL Rookie of the Year. The 20-year-old right-hander is 1-2 with a 3.71 ERA in three starts against the Twins this season, and has lost his last two - both at the Metrodome - while receiving no runs from his teammates.
Porcello beat the Twins at home May 5, giving up four hits over seven innings of a 9-0 victory.
Justin Verlander(notes) (17-9, 3.41) will try to give the Tigers another needed victory in the finale and match his career high for wins, set in 2007. He helped Detroit avoid a three-game skid Thursday, striking out 11 over seven innings of a 6-5 victory in Cleveland.
The Twins haven’t been easy to tame for the right-hander, who has a major league-leading 256 strikeouts. Minnesota has scored five runs in successive wins against Verlander over the last two months, including an 11-0 victory in Detroit on Aug. 8.
Blackburn has put a difficult stretch behind him, winning his last two starts by yielding two runs in 13 1-3 innings after going 1-7 with a 7.36 ERA in his previous 11 outings.
The right-hander was masterful Monday night as he scattered eight hits and struck out six over seven innings of a 7-0 win in Chicago.
Blackburn is 2-2 with a 3.66 ERA in five career starts against Detroit, but both losses have come at Comerica Park. He’s 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA in four career appearances there.
“This is what we all play for. It’s a blast,” Blackburn said. “Being in a race like this makes it even more exciting. There’s more pressure, but it makes us enjoy the wins even more.”
Duensing is searching for his sixth consecutive victory as a starter and fourth in as many starts. The left-hander earned a victory at Chicago on Wednesday night, giving up four runs and nine hits over 5 2-3 innings.
He won his only start against Detroit on Sept. 18, allowing four hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 3-0 home victory.