Tigers still team to beat/Paul Peterson

It seems like just a couple of weeks ago that most knowledgeable baseball fans in America had the Detroit Tigers as the next World Series champion.

Now, the Tigers appear vulnerable – even in the American League Central – after a series of untimely injuries and questionable front office moves.

Certainly, the loss of late inning reliever Bruce Rondon was a blow to the team. And losing left fielder Andy Dirks won’t help the situation.

But learning that shortstop Jose Iglesias will be lost for much of the season was even more disturbing.

Iglesias, who has displayed Ozzie Smith defensive skills, was the man Detroit was looking for to cement the infield. He appeared to be a lock for 150 games this year before shin splints (later found to be stress fractures in both legs) put him on the disabled list.

To a lot of people, it appears the Red Sox sold the Tigers damaged goods. But that remains to be determined.

The addition of second baseman Ian Kinsler and speedy outfielder Rajai Davis gives the Motowners some much needed quickness, and could eliminate the station-to-station offense of last season.

Moving superstar Miguel Cabrera to first base is also an upgrade as the departed Prince Fielder was more a distraction than anything else in 2013.

Newcomer Nick Castellanos could struggle in the early going but seems to be a good bet to add punch to the lineup that already is potent.

But the acquisition of 37-year old shortstop Alex Gonzalez late in spring training for utilityman Steve Lombardozzi was another strange move.

Trading away reliable Doug Fister for virtually nothing weakened the starting rotation. But it is still among the best in baseball with past Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. And Anibal Sanchez led the league in ERA last season.

New starter Drew Smyly must be consistent and Rick Porcello has to show more than he has in the past five seasons.

The multi-million dollar long-term signing of Cabrera was also a puzzler. Sure, he’s the best hitter in all of baseball, but did they really need to lock him up until he’s nearly 40?

Another upgrade is on the bench where new manager Brad Ausmus will emphasize the fundamentals that cost the team last year.

All this being said, I believe the Tigers can finally win a World Series crown for owner Mike Ilitch, who has thrown away money like a Great Lakes sailor on leave in Cleveland on this team.

Speaking of Cleveland, some of the “experts” think the Indians can overtake the Tigers in the division. And even more of them believe that the improving Kansas City Royals are a bigger threat.

That’s not going to happen because Detroit has the best starting pitching and the top hitter in the game. As baseball sage Yogi Berra once said: “90 percent of the game is half mental.”

Look for the Tigers to meet St. Louis for all the marbles in October and extract some revenge for the 2006 embarrassment to the Cards.