The Detroit Tigers' chances of overtaking the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central largely hinge on their performance against the Kansas City Royals down the stretch.
Six games remain between the teams, including Tuesday night's meeting in Detroit where Anibal Sanchez opposes Bruce Chen in a rematch of last month's pitchers' duel.
The Tigers missed a chance to claim first place after being swept in a doubleheader by Minnesota on Sunday, but they regrouped to beat Kansas City 6-2 in Monday's four-game series opener as Justin Verlander pitched eight solid innings.
The White Sox beat Cleveland 5-4 later Monday, though, keeping Detroit (81-72) one game back with nine remaining.
"It's not like every game's a must-win, but it's getting close to that point," Verlander told the team's official website. "It's a lot of pressure on us, but I think this team thrives under pressure. And if we start winning a few of these ballgames, that switches everything and puts the pressure on the White Sox."
After the completion of this series, the Tigers will travel to Minnesota for a three-game set before closing the regular season with three at Kansas City, which suffered its second straight defeat after being routed 15-4 by the Indians on Sunday to end its four-game winning streak.
Billy Butler, who is 10 for 19 over his last five, went 3 for 4 and Alex Gordon homered Monday for the Royals (70-83), who plan to give the Tigers all they can handle down the stretch.
"They're in a pennant chase and they're trying to make the playoffs. I'm sure there's a lot of energy over there," Gordon told the team's official website. "But there's energy here, too, so we're going to try to play them hard the next three games and make it a good series."
Sanchez and Chen will square off again Tuesday after both pitched well in Kansas City's 1-0 victory Aug. 29.
Chen (11-12, 5.22 ERA) allowed four hits in eight innings, while Sanchez (3-6, 4.55) gave up the lone run and seven hits over seven innings.
''Chen pitched a great game. A great matchup - Chen and Sanchez - and Chen was just a little better,'' manager Jim Leyland said after that contest. ''Chen throws this when you're looking for that, and vice-versa. He knows what he's doing, obviously.''
The left-hander was solid again in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Chicago, scattering five hits in 6 2-3 innings.
''Bruce Chen was right on top of his game,'' manager Ned Yost said. ''I told him after he was done, 'You did a great job of pitching yourself into trouble in the fourth inning and even a better job of pitching yourself out of it.' Bruce did a phenomenal job.''
Sanchez didn't pitch as well his last time out Thursday when he gave up six runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 12-4 loss to Oakland. The right-hander, though, struck out eight - his most since being acquired from Miami prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.
Triple Crown contender Miguel Cabrera went 1 for 4 on Monday to give him a 14-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .368 with seven homers. He leads the AL in batting average (.331) and RBIs (133), but his 42 homers trail Texas slugger Josh Hamilton by one.
Cabrera is 11 for 26 (.423) with three homers and three doubles lifetime off Chen.