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Tigers projected to finish behind Indians, White Sox in AL Central race

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Baseball Prospectus' annual PECOTA projections have the Tigers in third place.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Detroit Tigers endured a rash of injuries, sold off their expendable talent at the trade deadline, and finished in last place with a 74-87 record. They made a flurry of moves this offseason in order to shore up a leaky roster, and are approaching spring training in full health for the first time in years. There is optimism to be found -- guarded, though it may be in some areas -- among the Tigers fanbase.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections don't share the feeling, unfortunately. The first version of their projections was released on Tuesday, and it has the Tigers finishing 79-83, tied with the Minnesota Twins for third in the AL Central. Only the Kansas City Royals -- yes, the defending World Series champion Royals -- are projected to be worse, at 76-86. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians are projected to win 92 games, the highest total in the American League.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to those paying close attention. PECOTA has liked the Indians' strikeout-heavy rotation for years, just as their third-order win formula favored the Tigers during their heyday from 2011 to 2014. Strikeouts are sexy, and computers don't like it when the ball is put into play.

The Tigers' pitching doesn't seem to be the problem, though. Last season, the Tigers allowed 803 runs. Their starting staff faltered and their bullpen was one of the worst in baseball. They added five different players from last year's roster -- six if you count July addition Daniel Norris -- to shore up their pitching staff. PECOTA picked up on this, and projects the Tigers to allow just 716 runs in 2016. While this is still the highest projected total in the division and the fifth-highest in the American League, it is a major improvement.

According to PECOTA, the Tigers' issue is offense. They scored 689 runs last season, but are only projected to score 692 in 2016. This is the 10th-highest total in the AL, and third in the division. I'm no betting man, but I'd probably take the over on that total.

Baseball Prospectus isn't the only publication down on the Tigers. The USA Today's "semi-scientific" projections have the Tigers fourth in the Central, while FanGraphs envisions an 81-81 season that would put them in second place behind the Indians. As more experts make their prognostications over the next few weeks, expect more votes of confidence for the Indians and Royals, with maybe a few more people hopping aboard the White Sox hype train.

To be fair, the Tigers do have their warts. The core of their roster isn't getting any younger, and their 37-year-old DH is coming off the worst season of his career. It will take multiple bounce-back seasons for the pitching staff to resemble its former glory, and the bullpen is still a question mark despite being overhauled this winter. They still have a top-heavy roster that is a key injury or two away from finishing in the cellar once again. Until Al Avila has time to fully rebuild the farm system, that will not change.

They can still compete for a playoff spot, though. Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton are major additions that help offset the losses of David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. One would like to think that Victor Martinez will at least partially bounce back. Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez appear to be fully healthy, for now. There is plenty of star power to be found, and a realistic best case scenario still involves a November parade down Woodward.

The computers just don't think it's very likely.