These four games at U.S. Cellular Field, beginning Monday night at 7:10 p.m. CT, pit the division leading White Sox against their only challenger. A sweep by the South Siders would all but put the AL Central crown out of reach, giving them a six-game lead, while the Tigers doing the same would return control to Motown and wipe out their current two-game deficit.
Yet, in this up-and-down roller-coaster of a race, these games are important but probably not season-deciding with 19 still to be played after their conclusion.
"As it's been going all season, I really do believe it's going to come down to the last three games in Cleveland," said White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto, whose team finishes on the road against the Indians, while the Tigers finish in Kansas City. "We can't sit back and exhale as soon as they leave. We have to keep on playing."
"Regardless of what happens in the series, one bad week after that and you're back in the same situation or worse," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "They're important, everybody knows that, but it's not the end of the season."
Ventura and Manto speak from experience.
Detroit swept a three-game series against the White Sox from July 20-22, giving the Tigers a 1 1/2-game lead at the time. Four games later, and the White Sox were back in sole possession of first place.
From Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, the Tigers took three more victories from the White Sox to forge a tie atop the AL Central and give the Tigers a 10-4 edge in the season series and seven straight head-to-head wins. Detroit followed up that sweep with a series loss at home to the Indians, who had been 1-18 in their last 19 road games entering that competition, and a three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels this past weekend in Anaheim.
All six of those Detroit victories came at Comerica Park, where the Tigers have a 43-28 record against the White Sox 34-35 road mark. The roles will be reversed this week, with the White Sox bringing a 41-29 home ledger against the Tigers' 30-38 record away from home.
Regardless of the locale, the Tigers know they have a perfect chance to make up ground in this last rung of competition with the White Sox.
"We've won some must-win games so hopefully that trend continues when we go into Chicago," Detroit ace Justin Verlander said. "I don't think we fold under pressure as you see. When we played Chicago at home, it seemed as a whole we played our best baseball. That is a testament to what this team is capable of under pressure."
"It's nice, but you still have to play and still have to win," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "It doesn't matter who we are playing, but it's nice we get to play the guys who are ahead of us."
Rookie Jose Quintana gets the call for the White Sox in the series opener, with Rick Porcello going for the Tigers. Porcello has a 9-11 record with a 4.58 ERA, but has a 3-0 record with a 1.23 ERA over three starts against the White Sox.
Quintana makes his first career start against the Tigers, trying to push aside the pressure attached to this contest and the 12 runs he has allowed over his past five innings.
"I take it more like any other game," said Quintana, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Jackson Miranda. "But it is a big game for the team. We're excited about the series."
AL Most Valuable Player candidate Miguel Cabrera leads the Tigers' offense, along with Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, who delivered two game-winning hits during Detroit's recent three-game White Sox sweep. In that series, Max Scherzer and Verlander dominated the White Sox over the final two games, with Verlander improving to 12-1 over his last 13 starts against the White Sox.
Both hurlers will be working in this four-gamer at U.S. Cellular. They might not be facing White Sox slugger Adam Dunn, who has missed five of the last eight games with a strained right oblique.
Jake Peavy follows Quintana to the mound on Tuesday, with Francisco Liriano and Chris Sale tentatively scheduled to close the series, setting up another Sale-Verlander matchup Thursday. Peavy understands the intensity of this series, with the proximity in the standings and their geographical closeness.
He also understands that playing meaningful baseball in mid-to-late September is every player's dream. These four games just have a little extra meaning.
"This should be a fun series," Peavy said. "But it comes down to executing and trying to find a way to play a little bit better than we have in the past."
MLB.com associate reporter Alex Angert contributed to this report.