As Max Scherzer makes another run at 20 wins, his focus and that of everyone else on the field at Comerica Park on Sunday will be on an even bigger prize: a trip to October.
The final Tigers-Royals meeting of the season in mid-September figured to have at least one postseason contender all along, but it definitely has two as the American League Central foes square off in the last of 19 meetings.
This year, it could be said they might meet again, with the Royals hoping to break their 27-year playoff drought, still fighting for position in the AL Wild Card race.
After the Royals held on Saturday for a 1-0 win that ended with a play at the plate, Scherzer will square off against Royals veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie in the rubber game of the weekend series.
Scherzer has a no-decision and a pair of losses in his first three attempts at his first 20-win season, and he enters his fourth coming off his first consecutive losing decisions since April 24-29, 2012. After all, he is a combined 35-10 in 2012-13.
Scherzer's last loss was to the White Sox on Monday, when he lasted a season-low four innings while allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits.
"I made too many mistakes," Scherzer said. "I left the ball up, elevated the ball. I wasn't able to get the ball down and it cost me."
Guthrie, meanwhile, worked some magic his last time out in Cleveland, allowing nine hits but just one run as the Royals won a key game on the road.
"He did a good job of making pitches when he needed to, but didn't have his best stuff, and that's what starters do. They get you through without their best stuff," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Royals: Relief corps impresses
With closer Greg Holland starting to gain some notice, the Royals' bullpen as a whole is impossible to ignore as they hold the top ERA in the American League.
Veteran Tigers manager Jim Leyland certainly has taken notice, and he shared his thoughts on K.C.'s relief crew on Saturday.
"I think a lot of people are talking about Kansas City may have the best bullpen in the American League and that may be true," Leyland said. "Their closer may be the best in the league. He's dynamite."
Tigers: Starters stay strong
Even in a losing cause, the Tigers' rotation continued to excel, with Doug Fister registering his 21st quality start on Saturday night.
Tigers starting pitchers now have quality starts in 39 of the last 57 games dating to July 12, and they lead the AL with 71 wins, a 3.51 ERA (938.1 IP/366 ER) and 865 strikeouts.
The Royals clinched the season series with their victory on Saturday night, going up 10-8. The Tigers won last year's series, 13-5, and the 2011 series, 11-7.
After Sunday's finale, the Royals face another AL Central contender when they host the Indians after winning two of three in Cleveland earlier this week. The Tigers will host the Mariners and will play their last 13 games against teams with sub-.500 records.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.