Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Comerica Park. (Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)
(Sports Network) - Ace right-hander Justin Verlander kicks off the regular season's final week for the Detroit Tigers as they pursue a playoff spot in the opener of a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park.
The Tigers enter the second to last Monday of the season in a tight race in the American League Central Division, where they trail the Chicago White Sox by a game.
Detroit is unlikely to earn a postseason slot via a wild card. It trails the current wild card leaders - Baltimore and Oakland - by seven and six games, respectively.
Verlander, the AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner and MVP, has won three of his last four starts since an uncharacteristic four-start winless drought, defeating the White Sox, Cleveland and Oakland around a loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
He's pitched at least six innings in all four starts and allowed a combined seven runs on 24 hits in 27 innings while striking out 25 batters.
Verlander last faced the Royals on Aug. 28 and got a no-decision in the Tigers' 9-8 loss after allowing eight runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
The 29-year-old Virginia native is 11-7 in 22 career starts against Kansas City with a 3.37 ERA in 147 innings with 129 strikeouts.
The Royals oppose Verlander with former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar, who's won just once since Aug. 1.
The top selection of the 2006 draft out of the University of Tennessee was 7-9 on the season after an 8-3 defeat of Cleveland on July 31, but has since gone 1-5 in nine starts while his ERA has climbed slightly from 5.22 to 5.40.
Hochevar was a 3-2 loser to the White Sox in his last outing on Sept. 18 in Kansas City after giving up three runs on seven hits in seven innings.
He's 4-5 in 12 career meetings with the Tigers with a 6.17 ERA in 65 2/3 innings.
On Sunday in Kansas City, Carlos Santana smacked a pair of home runs and knocked in five, as the Cleveland Indians routed the Royals, 15-4, in the finale of a three-game set.
Adam Moore clubbed his first home run of the year for the Royals, as they saw their four-game winning streak come to an end.
Jake Odorizzi (0-1) looked good early on in his first major league start, but gave up three runs on six hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings to take the loss.
"I thought it went pretty well," Odorizzi said. "We ended up getting the loss, which is really the only thing that matters. But I thought I went pretty good. I left some balls up later on in the game and just gave up some hits in the sixth inning."
In Detroit, Jamey Carroll's RBI single in the top of the 10th inning helped the Minnesota Twins take a 2-1 win over the Tigers in the rubber match of a three-game set.
Denard Span began the frame with a pinch-hit single to right field off Jose Valverde (3-4). Span moved to second when Ben Revere grounded out and scored on Carroll's single to center field.
Glen Perkins worked a 1-2-3 bottom half and notched his 14th save of the season for Minnesota, which swept the doubleheader after registering a 10-4 victory over Detroit earlier Sunday.
"We just didn't score any runs," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We obviously need to score some runs and we just didn't do it. They shut us down and to be honest with you I didn't think they would."
Miguel Cabrera recorded an RBI double for Detroit.
The Tigers have won seven of the first 11 games between the teams in 2012, though Kansas City swept a three-game set at Kauffman Stadium from Aug. 28-30. Detroit won the 2011 season series, 11-7.
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