They might not know it, but the Pittsburgh Pirates could be just what Justin Verlander has been looking for all season.
The perennially dominant right-hander can secure a fifth straight victory against National League opponents this season -- and 15th straight overall -- when the Detroit Tigers head to PNC Park on Monday night to begin a quick two- game set with the Pirates.
Verlander has split 20 decisions this season and is en route to his highest earned run average in six seasons. He's allowed 80 earned runs in 24 starts in 2014, which is just four off the total he gave up across 34 starts in 2013.
Still, he's been better in terms of ERA lately while posting a 3.14 number across his last four starts, which included a seven-inning outing against the New York Yankees on Wednesday in which Detroit lost, 5-1.
"If I can pitch like that moving forward, there are going to be a whole lot of positive outcomes to come," Verlander said.
One start earlier, he'd flexed his interleague muscles with a 4-2 defeat of Colorado in which he threw eight innings and allowed two runs. His ERA against NL foes this season is 2.24 in four starts and in 32 career outings in interleague situations, he's a remarkable 25-2 with a 2.73 ERA.
Four of those wins have come against the Pirates, whom he last faced two years ago in a complete game victory at PNC Park.
A similarly deep outing might be a necessity for the Tigers on Monday after they used seven relief pitchers in a 19-inning loss at Toronto on Sunday. In Verlander's favor is the reality that Pittsburgh could remain without injured offensive starters Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
The Pirates scored five runs in a three-game weekend series with San Diego.
Pittsburgh hasn't lost three straight since early July and will try to prolong that with lefty Jeff Locke getting the start.
Locke had dropped two straight starts and allowed 12 runs while doing it, but he bounced back for a 7-3 win on Wednesday after striking out seven in seven innings against Miami.
He's 2-1 in his last six outings at PNC Park, and allowed seven hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his lone career meeting with Detroit last season.
The Tigers have lost eight of their last 10 games in Pittsburgh.