DETROIT -- Entering Friday's series opener against the Twins, the Tigers not only had baseball's best record at 20-10, but they also had the largest lead of any first-place team at five games over the White Sox.
The American League Central is the only division in baseball that doesn't have at least two teams over .500.
"It doesn't bother me what people say," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said of the division's critics. "Our goal is the same regardless of whether people think it's a good division or a bad division. Our goal is to win the division."
In 1997, Ausmus was a part of an Astros team that won the National League Central with only 84 wins.
"Didn't make it any less fun, winning the division," he said.
While Ausmus cited that year as an example of the division's perceived difficulty level being irrelevant, it could also be a sign of a strong division. If the winner finishes with fewer victories than most other champions, it might be that the teams in the division were strong but simply beat up on each other.
No matter the reason for Houston's record as a division champion that season, the postseason was a short one for the club. The Astros were swept in the NL Division Series by the Braves.
No team has won a division title with so few wins since the Dodgers also amassed 84 victories in capturing the 2008 NL West title.
Anibal aiming for return to rotation at Fenway
DETROIT -- Beyond Max Scherzer starting in the series opener next weekend in Boston, there is some uncertainty with the Tigers' starting rotation.
Anibal Sanchez, who continues to recover from a finger laceration, said that the target date for his return is the series finale on May 18 at Fenway Park.
"We talk about probably next Sunday, but I don't know yet," Sanchez said.
Sanchez had been scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday, but he ended up long tossing instead and expected to throw a side session on Friday.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus offered no timetable as to when Sanchez may return.
"There's a day in mind, but we have to wait and see," the skipper said.
Ray trying to straighten breaking ball issues
DETROIT -- In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as proactive interference, which occurs when past information hinders an individual's ability to retain new information.
That appears to be at least part of what is giving Robbie Ray, who debuted on Tuesday, trouble with his curveball. In Spring Training, he ditched the slider he had been tinkering with last year in favor of the new curveball. Against the Astros in his first start, Ray struggled with its command, but he still allowed only one earned run over 5 1/3 innings.
The difference between the delivery of the two pitches is in Ray's extension. With the slider, the rookie is trying to "get out far with it, really reaching out." The curveball, "you don't extend out as far."
Ray, the Tigers' No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, found himself "regressing" to the slider at times during his debut. As a result, he often left the ball up too high in the zone, and he realized it immediately. After one inning, Ray and pitching coach Jeff Jones focused on the fix.
"I'm just getting too long with it," Ray said. "I need to stay short."
Leyland source of comedy relief for Ausmus
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus isn't sure of exactly what year it was when he first met former skipper Jim Leyland, but he remembers it was at Comerica Park.
As is the wont of Leyland, who will be honored before Saturday's game against the Twins, "He made quite the impression," Ausmus said.
Since taking the Tigers' managerial job this offseason after Leyland's retirement, the pair has gotten to know each other quite well, and that includes Leyland's favorite jokes.
Ausmus chuckled recalling one of them in particular. It goes like this:
Leyland, who tells the joke as if it happened to him, says that he got pulled over going 100 mph on the freeway and that there were no other cars on the road at the time.
The police officer informs him how fast he was going, and Leyland says he was just trying to keep up with traffic.
In disbelief, the cop tells him there's not a single car around.
"I know," Leyland said. "I'm not keeping up."
• Earlier this week, setup man Joba Chamberlain turned heads in the Tigers' clubhouse by gifting each teammate a pair of Zubaz pants. The flashy garb was a fad in the 1990s, and the timing worked nicely with Friday being the organization's fourth annual Zubazpalooza.
• The Tigers offered a special ticket package that included a pair of Zubaz pants and a ticket to the game. Chamberlain's pants may not stay in style, but they were fashionable on Friday night -- even the grounds crew was sporting Zubaz before the game against the Twins.
• Reliever Luke Putkonen pitched two innings for Triple-A Toledo on Friday as part of his rehab assignment. Putkonen threw 23 pitches -- 14 strikes -- and allowed one run on two hits.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.