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updated: 2/17/2014 9:24 PM

Tigers still team to beat in AL Central

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  • Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer signs autographs for fans Friday after the Tigers' first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers in Lakeland, Fla.

      Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer signs autographs for fans Friday after the Tigers' first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers in Lakeland, Fla.
    Associated Press

  • Former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, left, talks with current manager Terry Francona during spring training practice Monday in Goodyear, Ariz.

      Former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, left, talks with current manager Terry Francona during spring training practice Monday in Goodyear, Ariz.
    Associated Press

 
 

Despite some big changes -- on the field and in the dugout -- the Detroit Tigers are still the class of the AL Central, and they're prohibitive favorites to finish first in the division for the fourth straight season.

As for the White Sox, a .500 showing and third-place finish behind the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals would have to be considered a positive year after last season's 63-99 disaster.

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With spring training under way, here's a closer look at the Sox' competition in the Central:

Detroit Tigers

2013 record: 93-69

Key additions: Closer Joe Nathan. Second baseman Ian Kinsler. Manager Brad Ausmus.

Key losses: First baseman Prince Fielder. Manager Jim Leyland. Starting pitcher Doug Fister.

The good: The Tigers welcome back two-time defending MVP Miguel Cabrera, who is moving from third to first base for health reasons.

They also welcome back defending Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA last season. With Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello, Detroit has one of the top rotations in baseball.

Replacing Leyland is a daunting task, but Ausmus is a solid replacement. Newcomer Rajai Davis is expected to platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, and he adds some needed speed.

The bad: Verlander had abdomen surgery in early January, but he has been throwing off the mound and might be ready to go on Opening Day.

Fielder was a bit of a disappointment with the Tigers before being traded to the Texas Rangers for Kinsler. Fielder did hit 55 homers and drive in 214 runs over the last two seasons, so Detroit needs to find another big bat to protect Cabrera.

The outlook: The Tigers will win the AL Central again, but can they win their first World Series championship since 1984?

Kansas City Royals

2013 record: 86-76

Key additions: Right fielder Norichika Aoki. Starting pitcher Jason Vargas. Second baseman Omar Infante.

Key losses: Starting pitcher Ervin Santana. Relief pitcher Will Smith. Right fielder David Lough.

The good: A strong September (17-10) last season almost put the Royals in the playoffs for the first time since 1985, so there is a momentum factor heading into the upcoming year.

James Shields cost the Royals top prospect Wil Myers in a trade with Tampa Bay, but the right-handed starter gave Kansas City a long-needed legitimate ace. Headed by closer Greg Holland, the bullpen is one of baseball's best.

First baseman Eric Hosmer flopped in 2012, but he bounced back strong last season and is back to being a key contributor in the middle of the order.

The bad: The Royals were last in the American League with 112 home runs and near the bottom in runs scored. Billy Butler needs to get his power stroke back, and K.C. is dropping Alex Gordon out of the leadoff spot in an attempt to manufacture more offense.

After Shields, Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, the rotation has some question marks.

The outlook: The Royals should make a strong run at second place in the AL Central, and a wild-card berth is an attainable goal.

Cleveland Indians

2013 record: 92-70

Key additions: Right fielder David Murphy. Closer John Axford.

Key losses: Starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.

The good: Under first-year manager Terry Francona last season, the Indians came from out of nowhere and advanced to the wild-card game, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Going 17-2 vs. the White Sox certainly helped Cleveland erase a 68-94 showing in 2012. Managers rarely get much credit for making a difference in the win column, but Francona's presence gave the Indians a huge boost.

The bad: The rotation and bullpen are big concerns. Justin Masterson and hard-throwing Danny Salazar look good, but the rest of the starters are question marks.

Axford replaces Chris Perez in the ninth inning, and he has struggled the past two seasons.

The outlook: The magic wears off this year, and Cleveland is back around .500 while battling the Sox for third place.

Minnesota Twins

2013 record: 66-96

Key additions: Starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. DH Jason Kubel.

Key losses: Catcher Ryan Doumit.

The good: Joe Mauer can still hit, but he has had numerous health issues the past few seasons and is moving to first base. The Twins have two of the top prospects in baseball: center fielder Bryan Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano.

The bad: Minnesota has lost 291 games over the past three seasons, and this year doesn't figure to turn the trend. The Twins are again destined to finish near the bottom of the AL in offense and pitching. General manager Terry Ryan is battling squamous cell carcinoma.

The outlook: Last in the AL Central, with 100 losses a very real possibility.

• Follow Scot's White Sox and baseball reports on Twitter@scotgregor.

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