August 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

No excuses: Despite their injuries and flaws, Tigers still have enough to win Central

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera has seen his power drop off following core-muscle surgery in the offseason. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Injuries are mounting, and so is the danger. An expected summer stroll for the Tigers has become a stunning stagger, and its troubling, but not terminal.

No whining, no excuses. For all their struggles, the Tigers still should win the division, no matter how much the scorching Royals make them sweat.

The Tigers actually got good news Tuesday when it was revealed Justin Verlander suffered no structural damage in his sore right shoulder and might miss only one start. But even with Anibal Sanchez and Verlander ailing, along with reliever Joakim Soria, the Tigers should have enough to outduel the Royals and win the Central for the fourth straight year.

No, the Tigers arent a World Series team right now, but thats not the point, and it doesnt absolve their miserable play since the All-Star break, going 10-15 and blowing a 7-game lead. The Tigers love muttering this is baseball during slumps, and the truism hurts now. Injuries are part of baseball, too. Roster depth is part of baseball. Playing hard through tough times is part of baseball.

This isnt some cruel twist of fate. It happens ask the As, who opened the season missing three injured starting pitchers. Its a supreme test, especially for GM Dave Dombrowski and rookie manager Brad Ausmus, and the Tigers still have the high-end talent to pass it. Lament the injuries and the brutal schedule all you want, but even if Verlander misses time, they have a starting threesome of Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello, which gives them a solid chance to win three out of every five games.

Should've seen it coming

The Tigers are vulnerable, no doubt. The bullpen is awful, although its not like Dombrowski has ignored it. No matter how painful it is to watch, Joe Nathan remains the key, more so with Soria sidelined. Dombrowski will peck through the waiver wire for another arm and another bat, and Id suggest he make a run at Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava. The Tigers are always willing to buy help, but theres also nothing wrong with demanding production from within.

Some are calling this an implosion, but Id say its more an ugly correction of fortune. Did the Tigers really think theyd go two full seasons without major blows to their starry pitching staff? Did they really think Miguel Cabrera would put up MVP numbers every season without any concession to age and wear? Did they really think J.D. Martinez would remain a fearsome everyday slugger? Did they really think Nathan wouldnt decline at the age of 39?

And did Dombrowski really think he had so much pitching he could deal Doug Fister (11-3, 2.49 ERA with the Nationals) and not get immediate major league value in return? Maybe if the Tigers still had Fister, they wouldnt have Price, but they could have filled a different hole.

The Price trade was tremendous, but it came at a cost. They surrendered center fielder Austin Jackson, and in his absence, the poor outfield defense has gotten worse and the offense has sputtered more. Id make the trade again and again, but the Tigers strategy of just loading up the rotation does have its drawbacks, and it shows in the weak bench, weak bullpen and weak defense.

Theres a cool confidence even an arrogance about the Tigers that comes from dominating their division. But the Royals are a good team with a great bullpen, and theyre surely sick of being the underachieving butt of jokes.

No excuses

The Tigers will need more from their best players to regain control. Remember, theyre trying to win with an all-rookie left side of the infield, Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez. And with Alex Avila struggling badly against left-handed pitchers, the cries grow to promote rookie catcher James McCann.

Its never that easy, but it shouldnt be this hard. The Tigers sloppy flop in that 11-6 loss to Pittsburgh Monday night was inexcusable. Verlander tried to gut it out, probably not the wisest move, and was pulled after one inning with a sore shoulder that might help explain his subpar season.

Verlander hasnt made excuses, and neither has Cabrera. Both underwent core-muscle surgery in the offseason and lost significant power. Cabrera still hits for average (.308) and drives in runs (85) but the drop in home runs (17, after 44 last season) is significant.

Ian Kinsler has been excellent at second base, but his hitting is streaky. Torii Hunter supplies what youd expect a 39-year-old, one-time star to supply bursts of unsustainable production. Fans focus on Don Kelly, Bryan Holaday and the bench, but when you invest so much in stars to win now, theres no way the 24th and 25th guys should derail you.

The Tigers are scheduled to start Buck Farmer, a 23-year-old farmhand who mostly has pitched in Single A, tonight. Every move looks panicky now, as it did a couple months ago, when the Tigers stumbled through a 9-20 stretch. They recovered from that and can recover from this.

Obviously, its going to be more difficult than predicted, when the Tigers were overwhelming favorites to win the division and a top pick to reach the World Series. Those chances have fallen, but no one wants to hear the woes of a team with Scherzer, Price, Porcello, Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Kinsler, etc.

The Tigers have been in trouble before and fought back. Theyve tried to hide their flaws behind their stars, and now their stars are dropping. That means theyre in danger but theyre not doomed, and theres no excuse to play like it.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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