White Sox, Tigers start crucial set at Comerica

Justin Verlander tries to get the Detroit Tigers even closer in the American League Central standings this evening when they open a three-game series with the division leading Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.

Detroit was picked by just about everyone to run away with the Central this season. However, things haven't gone as planned, but thanks to a recent tear the Tigers find themselves 1 1/2 games back of the White Sox.

The Tigers enter tonight's opener having won 10 of their last 12 following a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Thursday.

"When you have a good team, at some point they're going to play good," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "And, we're playing pretty good right now. This is really not a surprise to me. You just have to weather the storms we did in the first half and we survived that pretty well."

And they stand to get even closer with the great Verlander on the hill tonight.

Verlander bounced back from his All-Star Game loss with a sensational performance against the Baltimore Orioles, as he scattered three hits over eight scoreless innings to improve to 10-5, while lowering his ERA to 2.43.

"I just needed to tell myself that that's not the pitcher that I am," Verlander said. "I think everybody that has watched me or follows the Tigers or myself knows that that's not me, that's not the way I normally pitch. It's easy to turn the page on that and say that's not the way I pitch. Let me go out there and do what I normally do, start nice and easy and try to get some quick outs."

Verlander also completed at least six innings for the 61st consecutive start, tying Catfish Hunter for the third-longest streak since 1918. Only Bob Gibson (78) and Steve Carlton (69) have had longer stretches.

"I wasn't worried at all," Leyland said of Verlander's All-Star showing. "The fans, they wanted to see him throwing 100 mph, he threw it 100 mph. They hit it 120 at times. Today, he went right back to pitching, which I assumed he would."

Verlander has faced the White Sox 25 times and is 12-10 against them with a 4.13 ERA.

Chicago, meanwhile, will counter with an All-Star right-hander of its own in Jake Peavy, who has lost five of his last six starts. Peavy lost his first start out of the break, as the Kansas City Royals torched him for six runs and 12 hits in seven innings. He is 7-6 on the year with a 3.12 ERA.

"I just wasn't good enough," said Peavy, who reached at least 120 pitches for the third time this season. "I feel fine health-wise. I just wasn't crazy sharp tonight."

Peavy is 1-0 in three starts versus the Tigers this season with a 5.03 ERA. He's 3-2 lifetime against them with a 4.26 ERA in eight starts.

While the Tigers seem to be thriving of late, the White Sox are going in the other direction having lost three of four and four of six after a heartbreaking 3-1 loss in Boston on Thursday.

Chicago seemed well on its way to a win, but Cody Ross' game-winning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth spoiled the plans.

The White Sox have split eight meetings with Detroit this season, but the Tigers have taken 12 of 15 meetings at Comerica.