(AP) -- After a disappointing first half, the Chicago White Sox will likely face the biggest stretch of their season as they'll play 12 consecutive games against AL Central opponents, starting with the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers' Justin Verlander is emerging as a leading candidate for his first Cy Young Award. Largely as a result, his team is competing for its first division title since 1987, when its current ace was four years old.
The Tigers will have Verlander on the mound Friday night at home when they open the season's second half with a series against the Chicago White Sox, one of their pursuers in the AL Central.
Verlander (12-4, 2.15 ERA) has been incredibly dominant for nearly two months, going 8-1 with a 0.75 ERA over nine starts. After having his unbeaten streak snapped July 5 in Anaheim, the right-hander gave up one unearned run over 7 2-3 innings of Sunday's 2-1 victory over Kansas City and struck out nine, giving him 147 this season.
With their ace's help, the Tigers (49-43) are neck-and-neck with Cleveland for the AL Central lead, with the White Sox (44-48) and Minnesota not far behind.
"We're in the race. We've got to fix a few things, but everybody has to fix a few things," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "There's no perfect team in our division. We've got a shot, you know, and that's what you want. It's going to be a good race."
Facing Chicago six times over the next 12 games could help Detroit begin to pull away from the pack. The Tigers have won 11 of 12 over the White Sox, including five of six this season and six straight at Comerica Park.
They haven't beaten Chicago in seven straight home meetings since a run bridging the 1988 and 1989 seasons, when the clubs were in different divisions.
Verlander, meanwhile, will try to extend his own win streak over the White Sox while trying to join the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia as the only 13-game winners in the majors.
Verlander has compiled a 2.06 ERA while winning his last seven matchups with the White Sox, collecting two of those victories this season. If he can earn another in Friday's game, he'll match the third-longest active win streak by a major league pitcher over one opponent.
The White Sox aren't just struggling against the Tigers - they're having a hard time beating any of their division rivals.
Chicago is 8-16 against AL Central teams and went 2-5 over a seven-game homestand against Kansas City and Minnesota before the All-Star break. The White Sox must improve that mark soon to remain in serious contention, as they play their next 12 games within the division.
"We haven't played up to our potential," manager Ozzie Guillen told the team's official website. "We don't execute up to the way we should. I think that's why I think (no matter how badly we have played), I think we should be better."
Detroit is 18-8 against Central opponents, and that success doesn't bode well for Gavin Floyd's chances of breaking out of his funk.
The White Sox right-hander hasn't won since June 1, going 0-4 with a 6.14 ERA over his last six starts. Floyd (6-9, 4.59) was tagged for a season-high seven runs over 3 2-3 innings in his most recent outing, an 8-5 loss to Minnesota on July 8.
Floyd is 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA in 14 career starts against the Tigers, but suffered the lone defeat in his most recent matchup Sept. 9, when he gave up six runs and 13 hits over six innings.
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