While the Detroit Tigers own a comfortable lead in the AL Central, they have a chance to really distance themselves from one of the teams in pursuit.
Detroit tries to extend its season-high home winning streak to 10 on Thursday night when it opens a five-game set against the Kansas City Royals.
The Tigers (70-49) had dropped three straight and four of five before bouncing back with Wednesday's 6-4 road win over the Chicago White Sox. Miguel Cabrera, who has six homers and 14 RBIs over the last eight days, stayed hot with a three-run shot to help Detroit conclude a 6-4 trip.
"It was a tough road trip, a battle," Torii Hunter told the Tigers' official website. "We enjoy this day and we've got five with a team that's behind us, chasing us."
The Tigers remained six games ahead of Cleveland but moved 7 1/2 games in front of the third-place Royals (62-56), who had won 17 of 20 before suffering back-to-back losses to Miami. Kansas City took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning Wednesday, but Elliot Johnson's error proved costly in a 5-2 defeat.
"It's a tough one to swallow, but at the same time, we've got to look ahead,'' Eric Hosmer said. "We've got five games in Detroit. We can make up some serious ground. There's a lot of time. We've got to forget about this one and be ready to go tomorrow.''
The Royals have taken five of eight in the series this year, but they could have their hands full at Comerica Park, where the Tigers have outscored opponents 53-10 during their winning streak.
Detroit will try to keep things going behind Anibal Sanchez (10-7, 2.58 ERA), who is 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 70 strikeouts in eight home starts spanning 56 1-3 innings.
Sanchez has posted a 1.63 ERA during a season-high three-game winning streak, and he had everything working again Saturday in a 9-3 road win over the New York Yankees. He yielded four hits and struck out eight over seven innings of two-run ball.
Sanchez allowed the game's only run and a season-high five walks in six innings in a hard-luck 1-0 loss at Kansas City on July 19. He is 1-2 in the series despite a 0.82 ERA.
Hosmer is 1 for 9 in their matchups, and Mike Moustakas is 1 for 7. Moustakas, though, is uncertain to play after missing the last two games with a strained left calf.
With Moustakas banged up and fellow infielder Miguel Tejada on the disabled list, Kansas City acquired Emilio Bonifacio from Toronto in exchange for cash or a player to be named later Wednesday. The switch-hitting Bonifacio was batting .218 with three homers and 12 stolen bases in 94 games, but he provides plenty of versatility in the field.
The Royals give the ball to Jeremy Guthrie (12-8, 4.10), who had won a season-high four consecutive starts before yielding five runs and 10 hits in six innings in a 5-3 loss to Boston on Saturday. The right-hander dropped to 2-5 with a 4.76 ERA over his last eight road starts.
Guthrie was tagged for five runs and 10 hits in six innings but earned the victory in a 6-5 win over the Tigers on July 20, improving to 4-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his last five outings in the series. Guthrie, though, is 0-1 with a 6.19 ERA in his last three appearances in Detroit.
Cabrera is 10 for 25 with three homers versus Guthrie since 2010, and Prince Fielder is 7 for 15 with two doubles. Austin Jackson, however, is 4 for 23 with eight strikeouts.