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Tigers still among AL favorites despite injuries

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 25, 2014 at 5:53 pm •  Published: March 25, 2014

DETROIT (AP) — When Justin Verlander takes the mound for Detroit on opening day, maybe then the Tigers will be able to enjoy a much-needed sense of normalcy.

As an offseason of drama gave way to spring training injuries, it was easy to forget the Tigers still have one of the most talented rosters in baseball. Sure, there have been some early problems for new manager Brad Ausmus to address, Detroit still figures to be the favorite to win its fourth consecutive AL Central title.

"We have a new look this year," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "Little bit more speed and we'll miss the big man, but we'll score some runs."

The "big man" is Prince Fielder, whom the Tigers traded to Texas in a blockbuster deal that brought second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit. That move gave the Tigers more financial flexibility, although they weren't all that aggressive in pursuing free agents. Detroit did sign Joe Nathan to replace departed closer Joaquin Benoit.

The Tigers also traded right-hander Doug Fister to Washington.

Lately, the focus has been on right-hander Max Scherzer, who enters his final season before free agency after winning the Cy Young Award in 2013. Negotiations with the Tigers on a long-term deal have stalled.

"They respect where I'm at. I respect where they're at, and we'll revisit this after the season," Scherzer said. "I still want to be in Detroit. I love this clubhouse and everything about it. There's been a history of this team signing free agents so hopefully I'll be a part of that history as well."

But right now Scherzer's future is uncertain, and with Hunter and Victor Martinez in the final season of their contracts, it's hard to say what Detroit's 2015 roster will look like.

So the Tigers may never have a better chance to win a World Series with this group than right now.

Here are five things to watch in Detroit this season:

INJURY WOES: Two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera is healthy again after hobbling through the stretch drive in 2013, and Verlander has recovered well from offseason surgery to fix a groin problem. As long as Detroit's stars are in the lineup, the Tigers won't need to panic too much.

But outfielder Andy Dirks, shortstop Jose Iglesias and reliever Bruce Rondon have all gone down with major injuries, and their recoveries will be measured in months, not days or weeks. It doesn't look like the Tigers will make any major moves right away to fill those holes, although they did trade for shortstops Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez recently.

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