Prior to the start of the season, few would have seen a pitching matchup between Detroit's Drew Smyly and Chicago's Jake Peavy as an enticing duel.
Both are off to sensational starts, however, and runs could be hard to come by when the two square off in Friday night's series opener between the Tigers and White Sox at Comerica Park.
Detroit (12-12) has struggled since a 9-3 start and trails AL Central-leading Cleveland by 1 1/2 games in the early going.
"Our expectations were we had to win the division by 25 or 30 games - they were pretty unrealistic in the first place,'' catcher Alex Avila said after a 3-2 loss to Kansas City on Wednesday. "Our goal at spring training was to win the division, by one game or 10 games doesn't matter to us.
"We're not happy with the way we've played, but that's part of baseball and no one in this clubhouse is worried about it.''
Smyly (1-0, 1.23 ERA) is one Tiger who has exceeded expectations. He earned his first major league victory Saturday at Yankee Stadium, allowing a run and two hits while striking out seven over six innings of a 7-5 win. The rookie left-hander could have a few more victories but was backed by three total runs of support in his first three games.
"I'd say it's too early to get carried away, but it's not too early to say he's really doing well," manager Jim Leyland told the Tigers' official website. "We're very happy with what we're seeing, and it looks like he can settle into that spot and be very effective for us. But it's early."
Peavy (3-1, 1.67) has been a similarly pleasant surprise for Chicago. After a 2011 season in which he made two trips to the disabled list and had a career-worst 4.92 ERA, Peavy is again pitching like he did when he won the 2007 NL Cy Young Award.
The right-hander was named AL pitcher of the month after leading the league with a 0.69 WHIP and racking up 33 strikeouts to five walks. He threw his second straight complete game Saturday against Boston, limiting the Red Sox to four hits and a walk, but suffered a 1-0 loss.
"He just continues to impress and pitch brilliantly," manager Robin Ventura said.
Peavy notched his first win of the season against the Tigers on April 13, yielding two runs and two hits while striking out eight over 6 2-3 innings. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit's leader with seven homers and 21 RBIs, was 0 for 2 with a walk versus Peavy and is batting .143 with 11 strikeouts lifetime against him.
The White Sox (12-13) took two of three from the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field in mid-April, but have lost 10 of 12 meetings at Comerica Park. They are coming off Thursday's 7-5 loss to Cleveland, their seventh in nine games.
Paul Konerko is slumping, having gone 0 for 9 in his last three games, but Adam Dunn is heating up.
Dunn hit a two-run homer Thursday, his third in four games, and leads the White Sox with seven home runs and 19 RBIs. However, he's hitting .111 with 13 strikeouts in 27 at-bats against left-handers.
Detroit's Delmon Young was reinstated Friday after a seven-day suspension from Major League Baseball for yelling anti-Semitic epithets during a drunken tussle before being arrested last week. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he didn't plan to put Young in the lineup for this game, but he could be used as a pinch-hitter.