Major League Baseball's unofficial second half gets underway on Friday when the Detroit Tigers visit Kauffman Stadium to begin a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals.
The Tigers lead the American League Central over Cleveland by 1 1/2 games, while Kansas City sits in third place, eight games back and 9 1/2 off the pace in the wild card.
Despite holding the division lead, there is a feeling in the Tigers clubhouse that the best is yet to come.
"I don't think we've showed our potential yet," said pitcher Justin Verlander, who was one of six Tigers selected to the All-Star game. "I think we've been a little bit inconsistent, but hey, you can't be too upset. We're in first place and that's where we want to be."
Detroit has won nine of 13 after claiming a series victory over Texas leading into the break. On Sunday, the Tigers cruised to a 5-0 win behind another strong outing from Verlander, who gave up just one hit in seven innings. Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta kick-started the offense with back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning.
Martinez is batting .393 (22-for-56) over his last 14 games. All-Stars Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera have also been hot. Hunter is hitting at a .411 (23- for-56) clip in the last 13 games, while reigning AL Triple Crown winner Cabrera leads the majors with 132 hits, the most for a Tigers player through this point in the season since 1955.
Meanwhile, the Royals sputtered into the All-Star break with five consecutive losses to drop six games below .500. Now, they'll try and find a way to pick themselves off the canvas and stay in the postseason hunt.
In order to do that, they'll need All-Stars Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon to get going at the plate. Perez is 2-for-27 over his last seven games, while Gordon is 3-for-22 with 11 strikeouts in a six-game span.
Taking the hill for Kansas City is Ervin Santana, who is seeking his first victory in more than a month. The right-hander gave up eight runs on 10 hits against the New York Yankees on July 11 and exited after five innings. He had lasted at least six innings in each of his previous 17 starts.
"If you've watched Ervin all year long, he's been a guy that goes deep into games -- six and seven innings," manager Ned Yost said. "He usually finds ways to make a big pitch when he needs to."
For Detroit, Anibal Sanchez makes his third start since coming off the disabled list with a shoulder strain. He was done in by a grand slam off the bat of White Sox rookie Josh Phegley in his last outing.
"I think the more important thing is this is my second start back from the DL," Sanchez said following that game. "Everything is there, so I just have to work a little bit more with my command."
The Royals hold a 3-2 edge in the season series with Detroit.