May 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Tigers mailbag: Tigers' lull should have been expected

Andy Dirks hasn't progressed to 'heavy' baseball activity yet, and even after that, he's going to need at least a week or so on a rehab assignment, maybe split between Single A and Triple A. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

My, my, how quickly things change.

Just a week ago we were sitting here talking about which ballclub was superior, the 1984 Tigers or their counterparts 30 years later.

The 2014 Tigers stormed through Baltimore and Boston, sweeps in both outposts, and sat 27-12, a remarkable .692 winning percentage nearly a quarter into the regular season.

Now, after seven losses in eight games — including the last four in stunning blowout fashion — Tigers fans aren’t sure what the heck happened.

Well, here’s what happened: Reality.

The truth is, it’s just so darned hard to maintain a peak level of performance for an extended period of time, that such a run often is followed by an equally low valley. Just think about it: How often does a PGA Tour star shoot 63 one day only to hack it around to a 74 the following day? There have been nearly 300 no-hitters in baseball history, but why has only one man ever thrown them back-to-back? Why is the third leg of the Triple Crown so darn hard to win?

Heck, even look back to the 1984 Tigers. Everybody talks 35-5, and whoa, what a feat that was.

Well, here’s what nobody talks about: Those Tigers also lost eight of 12 from May 25-June 6, 10 of 15 from June 25-July 12, nine of 12 from July 31-Aug. 8, and six of seven from Aug. 29-Sept. 4.

We all know how that season ended. They steamrolled to the old American League East title, and blew away the competition in the postseason for this franchise’s last World Series.

Those Tigers were better than anybody. They knew it, and everybody else knew it — despite a few rather rough patches along the way.

That’s what the Tigers are going through now, granted they’re taking it to the extreme with all these whitewashes. But Tigers fans probably shouldn’t abandon ship just yet — especially since the problem during this awful run has been starting pitching, and we all know that’s more fluke than fact. The Tigers’ rotation remains among the top two in the AL, if not in all of baseball.

Before too long, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and the starters should turn the corner — and then so should the team, which, oh, by the way, still possesses the third-best record in MLB.

The sky’s simply not falling on the 2014 Tigers, just like it wasn’t on the 1984 Tigers.

Now, onto this week’s Tigers Mailbag.

Question: What’s the latest news about Andy Dirks? Will he be back soon? — Mark Cherrette (twitter.com/MarkyLou2)

Answer: Ahh, good question. And one, honestly, we don’t have a real concrete answer on.

All we’ve been told so far is he’s been doing some light baseball activity back in the Tigers spring home, Lakeland, Fla., according to MLB.com. Originally, when word came that the Tigers outfielder needed back surgery this spring, it was thought he was on target to be back by early June.

Well, early June’s almost here — and they’re gonna blow right through that deadline.

Think about it. Dirks hasn’t even progressed to “heavy” baseball activity yet, and even after that, he’s going to need at least a week or so on a rehab assignment, maybe split between Single A and Triple A.

Add all that up, and the best guess I can conclude is Dirks, 28, probably is looking more realistically at an early July return, as opposed to the original early June timetable. And that, of course, is assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks. No guarantee there, either. Backs are tricky.

The Tigers, of course, are monitoring the situation closely. They want him back, because they could use another left-handed bat, and because Rajai Davis is beginning to look as advertised: A good player, so long as he’s not overexposed.

That said, the Tigers want back the Dirks from 2012 (.857 OPS), not 2013 (.686 OPS). It’s not certain that’s what they’ll get, however, so expect Dave Dombrowski to keep a very close eye on the trade market for an outfielder, as well as a shortstop, despite Andrew Romine’s recent mini-surge at the plate.

Question: The Tigers win their division. Who beats them? — Benny Hogston (twitter.com/EastRidgeHoggie)

Answer: Let’s put it this way. Before the Tigers went on their big road surge against the Orioles and Red Sox, they led the AL Central by five games.

Today, after losing seven of eight, they lead the division by five games. During the skid, they’ve lost just 1½ games off their lead.

That supports what we all thought from Day 1: The AL Central remains weak, even if each of the other four teams has its share of impressive talent.

I’ve thought all along that the Indians, who are pitching-light, would have plenty of trouble repeating as contenders. The Royals can’t hit. The Twins can’t pitch. That leaves the White Sox — and they were my surprise pick at the start of the regular season, and they remain that today.

Think about it: The White Sox already for long stretches this season lost their ace, Chris Sale, and their top hitter, Jose Abreu, to the disabled list. Yet, they’ve held their own, hovering around .500, and in second place in the division.

Now, Sale and Abreu are set to return within the next week or so, a significant boon for the South Siders. And if general manager Rick Hahn can somehow find a way to add a quality starter or even two at the deadline, things could get interesting.

In that scenario, they wouldn’t be as dangerous as Detroit, but they’d be at least a threat to Detroit.

Question: Was there in fact any type of closed-door meeting? — Timothy Steere (twitter.com/TimothySteere)

Answer: Well, I would hope the doors were closed.

Because it sounds like the meeting was on the team flight from Detroit to Oakland.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus made reference to the Sunday team meeting following Monday’s game — a 10-0 loss to the A’s. That’s the thing about team meetings. They can look really good (Leyland had one early in his 2006 tenure, and the team took off) or really bad.

In reality, it’s a coin flip whether a team loses after a team meeting.

And if it loses, the perception then is the manager’s message fell on deaf ears.

That’s not really the case, of course. It’s very hard to win a baseball game, even when you’re the most motivated team on the diamond.

Ausmus wouldn’t divulge details of the meeting, obviously. That’s not going to be his style, to have team issues playing out in the press. But I’d be surprised if it was heated, like Leyland’s epic blowup nine years ago. Ausmus, surely, just wanted to remind his team it was talented, and to keep the faith.

And to stay seated until the captain turns off the fasten-seatbelt light.

Question: Have you interviewed Miguel Cabrera? He’s one of those guys who acts like he really loves playing baseball. — Jim Skinner (twitter.com/SavoyTruffle14)

Answer: I have talked to Miguel, on several occasions. And he’s almost always a treat to speak with. For selfish reasons, I wish he’d talk more about himself, but you have to respect a guy that only wants to talk about the team, regardless of what accolades he’s in line for.

Oh, and by the way, your observations are dead on — Miguel simply loves to play the game, like an 8-year-old who’d play for nothing more than a postgame stop at the ice-cream stand.

Miguel is an interesting cat. There are two sides to him, just like there are to everybody, I suppose. He can be really talkative, outgoing and funny — he can be really funny — or he comes off as super reserved.

Interestingly, usually it’s after the games when he’s most reserved, even if he has a monster day at the plate and his team wins. I find this compelling. It’s almost as if this big kid is just a little sad there’s no more baseball to be played this day.

Question: How has Corey Knebel looked to you? — Shaun (twitter.com/ShaunMichael80)

Answer: I hesitate to answer this, since some suggest I’ve given Knebel, the hard-throwing Tigers reliever, too much ink already. But I can’t help it. He’s a fascinating kid, and just one of two members of the entire 2013 Major League Baseball draft class to be in the major leagues already. He’s the first member of the Tigers’ last two draft classes to make The Show.

He came with high billing, but some caution tape, too. And for the most part, Knebel’s been exactly what I thought he’d be.

The kid has an absolutely devastating, knee-buckling curve — that will be his strikeout pitch in the majors. It truly is a plus-plus pitch. Even if it’s hung — and he’s hung a few – it’s not a cookie, because of the deceptively violent motion he throws with.

The fastball is promising too, but he still needs to locate that better — particularly lower in the zone.

The Tigers knew this when they brought him up, but they were willing to let him learn on the fly.

After all, there’s not much more for Knebel, 22, to learn in the minors.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/tonypaul1984