Detroit — Late Tigers manager Sparky Anderson famously said that he couldn’t tell much about his teams until the 40-game mark.
During the championship season of 1984, the Tigers started 35-5 in the first 40, with an easy wire-to-wire finish. The quarter mark of a season generally is a good gauge for how a team projects to do during a season.
That’s during a normal season — there will be no such luxuries this year.
This season in baseball will be anything but normal: physical distancing, designated hitters in the National League and runners on second base to start extra innings.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortened 60-game schedule will be one of the biggest challenges that teams face this season, along with having to manage the health of their players, who will be split into a 30-man main squad and a 30-man taxi squad next week.
Of the Tigers’ 60 games, 40 will come against rivals (10 games each) in the American League Central and 20 against the National League Central.
With only 60 games, teams that get out to a good start will have an advantage in the pseudo-sprint through the regular season. Instead of a 40-game quarter mark, the number is down to 15. Managers will have to make quick adjustments and fine-tune on the fly and pitchers will have to ramp up, with a projection of only about 10-12 starts each.
In the past decade, the Tigers have fared well within the division, with an impressive 106-80 record against the Chicago White Sox. The only team they have a losing record against is Cleveland. During the last decade — which includes five winning seasons and five at .500 or worse — there are some intriguing numbers that could bode well for the shortened season.
Among them is .518 winning percentage within the Central Division, where two-third of their games will be this season. Here’s a look at how the Tigers have fared in the division in the last 10 years:
Chicago White Sox (2019 record: 72-89)
The Tigers have won the head-to-head season series against the White Sox in eight of the past 10 seasons, including a 13-5 mark in 2011. Last season was the Tigers’ worst in that span, at 6-12.
Of their 10 head-to-head games this season, seven are at Guaranteed Rate Field, including six in a 10-day stretch in mid-August.
Cleveland Indians (93-69)
Cleveland dominated last season, with an 18-1 record against the Tigers. The last time they Tigers won a season series was 2015, with an 11-7 margin. The teams were fairly even head-to-head throughout the decade, but Cleveland had the overall advantage, with a 102-83 record.
The Tigers will have seven home games this season against Cleveland, including finishing the regular-season home slate Sept. 17-20 at Comerica Park.
Kansas City Royals (59-103)
The Tigers and Royals split the last 10 season series, 5-5. The Tigers won the head-to-head series last season, 10-9, and have the overall advantage in the decade, 98-89, thanks in part to a 13-5 margin in 2012.
This season, the Tigers have six of the 10 games at home, with the first meetings coming July 27-30. They won’t play again until Sept. 15, and they finish the regular season at Kauffman Stadium.
Minnesota Twins (101-61)
The defending Central champions have won the last three season series against the Tigers, including a dominant 14-5 margin last season. The Tigers had a 99-88 record for the decade, buoyed by a 15-4 edge in 2016.
In the 10-game schedule this season, the teams don’t play until Aug. 27-30 at Comerica Park and the Twins host six games at Target Field.
The 20 interleague games are distributed well throughout the season, with 12 in August and four each in July and September, allowing the Tigers to ease into the regular season before the meat of the schedule against their divisional rivals.
The Tigers will play the Cincinnati Reds in two exhibition games before opening the season with a three-game series July 24-26 and three more games the following weekend at the Great American Ball Park. They host the Chicago Cubs for their only three games of the season.
They play their only three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, all at PNC Park. The four games against the Milwaukee Brewers will be split, with two home and two away on back-to-back weeks in September. The Tigers’ four-games against the St. Louis Cardinals will be a home-and-home series in the first week of August.
The Tigers’ record against AL Central opponents last season:
Chicago: 6-12 record, 86 runs scored, 113 runs allowed
Cleveland: 1-18 record, 38 runs scored, 116 runs allowed
Kansas City: 10-9 record, 85 runs scored, 103 runs allowed
Minnesota: 5-14 record, 80 runs scored, 123 runs allowed