DETROIT -

If you looked at the 2013 baseball season -- which opened Sunday night -- on paper, some fans might want to just skip the regular season and go straight to the World Series.

And if you did that, most would have the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals in the Fall Classic.

After all, both squads have pitching to die for. And we know pitching and defense wins in October, not hitting.

There's only one thing standing in the Tigers' way to a second straight appearance in the World Series.

It's not just the idea that they will try to get there with a bullpen by committee plan rather than a bona fide closer.

It's the American League as a whole. It will not be that easy to conquer this season.

Not for the Tigers, not for any team.

The AL got better from a year ago. In fact, if you talk to some involved, many say it's a toss-up -- for real.

How tough will the AL be in 2013? Even the Kansas City Royals won't be a pushover.

"I don't think anybody understands how good this competition is going to be in the American League, all throughout every division this year," Tigers' manager Jim Leyland said. "It's going to be unbelievable.

"I don't see anybody running away with anything. You can pick it and be right. But I'll guarantee you. Whoever you pick, you may not be right."

Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman agrees with Leyland when he looks at the AL landscape.

"Everybody's getting better," Cashman said. "There are not really any teams getting worse - except some are saying we're getting worse.''

Indeed, some have downgraded the Yankees -- who are here for Opening Day in Detroit on Friday -- because of all the injuries to start the season. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will all probably be on the disabled list.

But the Yankees are going to be in the mix because of their pitching. Their rotation is solid with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte at the top of it. In the bullpen, they have Mariano Rivera, the best-ever closer, in his final year.

The same can be said for the Tampa Bay Rays, who had the best pitching staff in the league a year ago. Starters posted a 3.19 ERA and relievers had a stingy 2.88 ERA.

Baltimore almost won the AL East, but did make the playoffs.

And the Blue Jays are contenders after adding Mark Buhrle, R.A. Dickey, Jim Johnson and Jose Reyes.

"The AL is wild," joked Sabathia. "I might have signed in the wrong league a couple of years ago.''

Sabathia laughed, but he's right. Enough with pitching. Some of the lineups AL starters will have to face will be no joke.

Enter the L.A. Angels, who added free-agent slugger Josh Hamilton to a lineup that already has Albert Pujols. They have enough firepower to win.

Last season, the Oakland A's shocked the AL West by winning division on last day of the season. The Texas Rangers, another loaded team, got knocked out of playoffs in first round.

In the Central, the Chicago White Sox held first place almost all season until stumbling in the final 10 days and finishing in second place, three games behind Detroit. The Royals picked up big-time pitching help with additions of James Shields and Wade Davis. They are now in play.

"We're a very capable team," Leyland said. "But there's a bunch of capable teams in the American League this year. Don't sell anybody short because it's going to be a dogfight. I can promise you that."

The Tigers, who swept the Yankees in the ALCS to get to World Series, improved.
They not only got DH Victor Martinez back, who missed all of last season with a left knee injury, but also signed free-agent Torii Hunter to play right field. "Detroit got better, if you believe that," Sabathia said. "Torii makes their defense that much better."