(Sports Network) - Wins leader Justin Verlander goes for victory No. 19 tonight when the Detroit Tigers visit the Tampa Bay Rays to open a four-game series at Tropicana Field.
Verlander, an 18-game winner last season, reached that number again this year when he tossed 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 7-1 defeat of the Minnesota Twins last Tuesday.
He's won six consecutive starts since July 15, when he dropped an 8-2 decision to the Chicago White Sox.
In nine career starts against the Rays, the 27-year-old Virginia native is 5-1 with a 3.88 earned run average across 58 innings with 46 strikeouts.
The Tigers enter the series having won three straight games over their nearest pursuers in the AL Central - the Cleveland Indians - concluding with Sunday's 8-7 victory and series sweep. Outfielder Austin Jackson caught Matt LaPorta's fly ball and nailed Kosuke Fukudome at the plate to secure the win.
Detroit scored all eight of its runs in the first four innings against Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1), including seven in the third. Delmon Young hit a three-run homer and Victor Martinez added a two-run shot during the big inning.
But then the Tigers had to hold on as the Indians rallied. Joaquin Benoit stranded runners in scoring position in the eighth, and Jose Valverde worked a nail-biting ninth for his 37th save.
The sweep widened Detroit's division lead over Cleveland to 4 1/2 games -- its largest of the season -- heading into a seven-game road trip to Tampa and Minnesota.
On Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla., Johnny Damon belted a game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the Rays to an 8-7 victory and a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners.
Damon, who homered on the first pitch of the inning, finished 2-for-5 with a three-run double to cap a four-run seventh. John Jaso chipped in a pair of RBI and Ben Zobrist knocked in a run for the Rays, who have won five in a row.
Kyle Farnsworth (5-1) worked a perfect ninth to earn the victory, while Dan Cortes (0-2) absorbed the loss after giving up Damon's walkoff shot.
For the Rays, righty Jeff Niemann can continue a stretch that's seen him not lose since May 4.
The 6-foot-9 Texan is 7-0 in 10 starts since a 3-2 loss to Toronto, including a complete-game win at Boston in his last start on Aug. 16, when he allowed two runs on three hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts.
He's allowed three runs or less in eight of the 10 starts and lasted at least six innings in all but one of the outings.
Niemann is 1-1 in four career meetings with Detroit.