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KC@DET: Verlander K's eight in solid start vs. Royals

The possibility of the postseason is inching closer for the Tigers, who have a one-game lead in the American League Central with five games remaining.

So, too, are the chances of their top two players clinching the AL's biggest awards.

Right-hander Justin Verlander takes the mound on Saturday for his final regular-season start, looking to continue the Tigers' recent hot play -- they've won four of their last five -- and solidify his resume for a second straight AL Cy Young Award. The usually dominant Verlander has been even more so as of late, winning his last three starts while posting an 0.86 ERA and .250 average against.

He's faced Minnesota only once this season but turned in one of his best outings of the year: a four-hit complete-game gem on July 4.

Verlander also will be tasked with helping teammate Miguel Cabrera (.327), who has a slim lead over Twins catcher Joe Mauer (.322) and Angels center fielder Mike Trout (.321) in the race for the AL batting title. Cabrera also trails Texas' Josh Hamilton, 43 to 42, in home runs in his chase for the Triple Crown.

Mauer is ending his season on a tear, hitting .385 this month, and has a career .364 average against Verlander.

Cabrera, meanwhile, is batting .406 with seven doubles and five home runs against the Twins this season, adding even more intrigue to the weekend series.

"You definitely have a front-row seat to two of the better hitters in our league," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Joe's behind [Cabrera] a little bit, so it'll be fun watching and seeing how each guy does as they come up here and how they affect the game.

"For those guys on the other side, these are huge baseball games. For us it's a lot of fun to be a part of something. You put those little things that go along with it -- batting titles, Triple Crown -- it's all for entertainment."

Right-hander P.J. Walters, who starts for Minnesota on Saturday, has a 2.95 ERA in three starts against the Tigers this season. He last faced Detroit on Sunday, tossing six innings of one-run ball.

Tigers: Verlander going for 17
A win on Saturday would give Verlander at least 17 for the fourth consecutive year and the sixth time in his seven-year Major League career. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia entered the season with five straight 17-plus-win seasons but won't get there this year, with only 14.

• Tigers starters have a 2.62 ERA in their last 35 starts, 22 of which have been of the quality variety.

• Cabrera is two shy of his first 200-hit season.

Twins: Willingham sits again
Outfielder Josh Willingham sat for the third straight game because of a sprained left shoulder, an injury he sustained on an attempted homer-saving catch on Monday. Gardenhire said that he would listen to Willingham about possibly getting him back in the lineup this season but doesn't want to risk further injury.

"You definitely don't want [him] to end up going into the offseason with a shoulder problem," Gardenhire said. "We're going to be very careful. I have to go by what he says. Right now he can't play, and I don't plan on putting him out there until he tells me him can. If anybody could play, he would play. But he doesn't feel it right now."

• With 38 steals, Ben Revere needs to swipe one more base to put himself in sole possession of seventh place on the club's all-time single-season list. Three more will tie him with Rod Carew (41 in 1973) for sixth.

Worth noting
• The Twins have taken three straight from the Tigers for the first time since 2010.

• Twins outfielder Denard Span is hitting .350 with 11 doubles and eight triples in 63 career games against the Tigers. He's also a .395 career hitter against Verlander.

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