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Rounding Third: AL Outlook: Tigers top wide-open AL

<p>I don't remember a time when the American League was so wide open.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - I don't remember a time when the American League was so wide open.

Of course, there are the power teams. Detroit is very good, and Boston deserves some respect because, well, it is the defending world champion. But even the Red Sox have an awful lot of question marks.

You can almost make a case for every team in the AL making the playoffs. Well, except for Minnesota and Houston. Probably Chicago, too.

Even with a first-year manager, Brad Ausmus, Detroit is in a class all by itself. And how often can you say that after a team deals away a 30-home run/100-RBI threat in Prince Fielder? Well, you can when you replace him with a potential 30-home run threat in second baseman Ian Kinsler.

And let's be honest, any lineup that already includes Miguel Cabrera is probably pretty well off anyway.

Now the Tigers do have some questions.

Losing shortstop Jose Igelesias for the season is big, but don't be fooled by his offensive numbers from a year ago. He's in this league for his glove. If the Tigers can get anyone to field the position, they will be fine. Anything they get offensively from the shortstop position was going to be gravy. Andrew Romine or Alex Gonzalez will more than fill the bill.

That's why all the talk of them making a run at free agent Stephen Drew was so silly. The Tigers were never going to be in that market. They don't need him. Trying to lure 46-year-old Omar Vizquel out of retirement was probably a more realistic scenario.

The biggest unknown on this Tigers team will be rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos. The Tigers believed in him enough to make Fielder available and it seems to be working out, as he's been pretty impressive with the bat this spring.

The reason to absolutely love Detroit, though, is the starting pitching staff. If you can find a better trio in the league than Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, good luck. And Rick Porcello isn't so bad, either.

Not to mention, the Tigers finally have a closer in Joe Nathan. It's almost amazing they got as far as they did in 2013 with their patchwork bullpen. There's no question who is closing out games for this Tigers team now.

But, the AL is wide open. I can safely say the Tigers will be back in the playoffs come October. As far everyone else, well, good luck.

Then again, Derek Jeter has lived such a charmed life, the New York Yankees will probably wind up winning the World Series in this his final season.

For an insight into the season, here's a brief synopsis and a look at some of the teams which will try to stop the Tigers from winning an AL pennant in power poll form:

2. TAMPA BAY: If the St. Louis Cardinals are the gold standard on how to build a franchise, then the Rays are a close second. Sure, they play in what's long been considered the roughest division in the league. But the Rays have proven up to the task in four of six seasons using a formula that's heavy on pitching and light on big-ticket contracts. Manager Joe Maddon somehow mixes it all into a dynamic, competitive unit that seems far greater than the sum of its parts. The AL East might be a bit overrated this season and it wouldn't shock anyone if the Rays are the ones left standing at the end.

3. TEXAS: The Rangers opened up the wallet this past winter with the acquisition of Fielder, not to mention the free agent signing of Shin-Soo Choo. They should improve what was already an impressive lineup. However, second baseman Jurickson Profar will most of the first half with a shoulder injury. And ace Yu Darvish is already a little banged up after his remarkable 2013 campaign. Still, the Rangers should have enough to be there in the end.

4. NEW YORK YANKEES: On paper, there are not many teams better than the Yankees. Even with all of last year's injuries and the Alex Rodriguez drama, this was a team fighting for a playoff spot up until the last week of the season. The additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka, plus the returns of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira should not only make them better, but will more than outweigh the loss of Robinson Cano. Logic tells me they should be real good, but this is a real old team. This formula has worked in the past, but I also think it could be a very long year in the Bronx.

5. BOSTON: The defending world champs should once again be right in the thick of things in the AL. But it won't be easy. A lot of things broke the Red Sox's way last season. Let's keep in mind this is a team just two years removed from losing 97 games. Do you trust Grady Sizemore? Or even Jackie Bradley Jr. when Sizemore breaks down? What about the left side of the infield. Yes, Xander Boagerts is one of the best prospects in baseball, but is he ready? And are we really going to give Will Middlebrooks another chance? The rotation should be solid, but the jury is still out on closer Koji Uehara. Maybe I'm nuts, but I don't see a 90-win team here. But, then again, I didn't see one last year.

6. OAKLAND: Oakland took a big hit when Jarrod Parker was lost for the season after a second Tommy John surgery. With an already young staff, the A's desperately needed 200 innings from Parker. It's hard to count them out, though. They always find a way to win and it usually comes from within. This might be the year, though, that general manager Billy Beane's luck finally runs out.

7. KANSAS CITY: The Royals have been building the last few years, incorporating young players from within, and their time would seem to be now. They probably don't have the starting pitching to compete with the Tigers in the AL Central, but should be in the wild card mix come September. This might be the year that first baseman Eric Hosmer becomes a household name.

8. LOS ANGELES ANGELS: Call me crazy, but I think Albert Pujols is going to have a big year. The Angels have been the league's biggest disappointment the last two seasons and Pujols has been a big reason why. Josh Hamilton played a part in that as well last year. After a surprisingly quiet offseason from the Angels, they could be primed for a bounce-back year, And, oh yeah, they also have perhaps the best player on the planet at the moment in Mike Trout. Mark me down for the Angels reaching the playoffs.

9. BALTIMORE: Baltimore's only problem at the moment is that they play in the same division as three of the best teams in the whole league. Having Nelson Cruz's bat in the middle of the lineup will help, and if Ubaldo Jimenez can be anything like the pitcher he was last year, this could be a really dangerous team. Regardless, they should be in the wild card mix.

10. SEATTLE: Seattle made the move of the offseason when it lured Robinson Cano away from New York. The Mariners already have the starting pitching and Cano can only help an offense that has been anemic for years. He can't do it by himself, though. Someone is going to have to help shoulder the offensive load. Whether it's Corey Hart or Justin Smoak, or someone not even on the roster yet, Seattle still needs more in the lineup before it will contend.

11. CLEVELAND: The Indians reached the postseason for the first time in six years and are still kind of flying under the radar this season. When you look at the roster, it's kind of hard to figure out how they won 92 games. You can't help but think they will regress. Everything went their way a year ago; this year, they will probably be around .500.

12. TORONTO: It's amazing that everyone loved this team heading into last season. It's essentially the same team, but there is nowhere near the buzz as there was a year ago. The starting pitching has to be better, but as is always the case with this team, the question is can they stay healthy? If Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista can each play 150 games, this team could really be a surprise. It's hard to imagine that happening, though. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked to see Reyes moved around the trade deadline.

13. CHICAGO: The White Sox could be an interesting team. They have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Chris Sale and have a real unknown commodity in highly regarded Cuban first baseman Tony Abreu. Regardless, there probably isn't enough anywhere else to make this team a contender.

14. MINNESOTA: The best thing about this Minnesota team happened the other day. If you don't know what I am talking about, watch this video: http://tinyurl.com/jwbynx6. The Twins are coming and may have the best prospect in all of baseball at the moment in outfielder Byron Buxton, but he probably won't make an impact this season. The team took a hit when another prospect, third baseman Miguel Sano, was lost for the season because of Tommy John surgery.

15. HOUSTON: At some point, all these first-round picks are going to translate into some wins. Unfortunately it won't be this year. It will be another long year for the Astros.

SOME OTHER PREDICTIONS

BREAKOUT PLAYER - ERIC HOSMER, 1B, KANSAS CITY: Hosmer has always been a nice little player and has been one of the cornerstones of the up-and-coming Royals team. This year, though, he may throw his name into the MVP conversation. Hosmer overcame a bad start and batted .302 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI last year. He got better as the year wore on and actually saw his game improve once he started working with Royals legend George Brett. At 24, Hosmer's ready to break out, and if he does, the Royals could find themselves playing in October for the first time since 1985.

BREAKDOWN PLAYER - CC SABATHIA, NY YANKEES: Can we name the whole Yankees team? While I think it could get real ugly for Jeter this season, I am going to go with the Yanks' "ace," Sabathia. The big left-hander showed signs of wearing down last year and pitched to the worst ERA of his career at 4.78. Let's face it, there are an awful lot of innings in that 33-year-old left arm. We saw Roy Halladay essentially fall from the face of the earth overnight. The same may happen to Sabathia.

FIRST MANAGER FIRED - MIKE SCIOSCIA, L.A. ANGELS: Yes, I think the Angels are going to make the playoffs this season, but I can't really make a strong case for anyone else. There are always rumors that Scioscia and Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto don't see eye-to-eye. Actually, after the last two seasons, I am kind of surprised that Scioscia is still in charge out there. He won't be able to withstand a third consecutive slow start, though.

HOW IT WILL EVENTUALLY BREAK DOWN

WILD CARD: KANSAS CITY ROYALS over N.Y. YANKEES. ALDS: DETROIT over TAMPA BAY; L.A. ANGELS over KANSAS CITY. ALCS: DETROIT over L.A. ANGELS.

AWARDS

AL MVP - MIKE TROUT (L.A. ANGELS); AL CY Young - FELIX HERNANDEZ (SEATTLE); AL Rookie of Year - XANDER BOGAERTS (BOSTON); AL Manager of Year - NED YOST (KANSAS CITY); AL Comeback Player - ALBERT PUJOLS (L.A. ANGELS).

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