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This clearly has not been a vintage season for Justin Verlander, though a strong finish would at least remove some of the disappointment.

He's already off to a good start in that regard.

Verlander came up big for the Detroit Tigers in his previous start and they'll ask for more of the same Wednesday as they try to maintain sole possession of the AL Central lead against the Chicago White Sox.

One of the game's elite pitchers during a four-year span, Verlander (14-12, 4.68 ERA) hasn't been nearly as effective the past two years and will finish this season with his worst ERA since 2008.

The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner will also have more hits allowed than innings pitched for the first time since 2006 and won't reach 200 strikeouts for the first time in six seasons.

All that mattered little Friday, when Verlander limited Kansas City to one run over 7 1-3 innings in a 10-1 victory that gave the Tigers (87-70) a two-game division lead over the Royals. That outing was in stark contrast to his first three starts this month, a stretch in which he compiled a 6.05 ERA.

"He certainly seemed like he was up for this game," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It was up there with one of the best games he's had all season."

Verlander has pitched seven effective innings in three of his four starts this season against the White Sox, but allowed seven runs over 5 2-3 in an 8-2 road loss June 11.

Detroit's division lead has since been cut to one game, an advantage it maintained Tuesday with a 4-3 victory over Chicago (72-85). David Price allowed three runs after taking a 3-0 lead into the ninth, but Miguel Cabrera singled home Ian Kinsler in the bottom half.

"When you've got a 3-0 lead in the top of the ninth and David Price on the mound, you think the game is over," Detroit's Torii Hunter said. "But then they tie it, and we had to go right back out there and win it. Kins did a great job, I had a good at-bat to draw the walk and then Miggy did what Miggy does."

It was the seventh win in nine home games for the Tigers, whose magic number to clinch a playoff spot dropped to two. They close the regular season this weekend with four against Minnesota, while the Royals visit the White Sox for a four-game series.

Chris Sale (12-4, 2.20) opposes Verlander with a chance to claim the AL ERA title.

Sale took over the ERA lead after Seattle's Felix Hernandez (2.34) was hit hard Tuesday, but the Mariners ace is scheduled to start again Sunday.

Chicago's ace will need to be much better than he was last Wednesday at Kansas City, where he allowed five runs and nine hits over five innings in a 6-2 loss. He surrendered four earned runs total in his previous four starts spanning 27 innings.

Most of the Tigers haven't presented a problem for Sale, who is 3-2 with a 1.74 ERA in his last six starts against them.

Victor Martinez, however, is 15 for 28 (.536) with three homers and three doubles in their matchups. His average is the highest of any player who's faced the left-hander more than 20 times.

White Sox rookie Jose Abreu went hitless in four at-bats Tuesday, marking only the third time in 18 games this season against Detroit that he failed to get a hit. Abreu is batting .397 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in the season series, going 7 for 12 with two homers off Verlander.

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