August 13, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers Mailbag: Playoff chances hang on the health of pitching rotation

If Justin Verlander, with a sore shoulder, misses much more than his next start, the chances of the Tigers winning their division will take a big hit. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit — Sorry we’re a day late on this, folks. Like so many of you, I had some stuff to attend to on the home front earlier this week.

Man, I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life, and I’ve never seen rain — and flooding — like that.

I hope y’all came through the mess OK.

Now on to this week’s (delayed) Tigers Mailbag:

Question: Will the Tigers make the playoffs? — Chris Katje

Answer: This is the question everyone wants an answer to, but the best I can come up with: I have no flipping idea.

I still truly believe they’re a better team than the Royals, or at least a more-balanced team. The Tigers offense isn’t this bad, and the rotation remains the best in the division. The Royals get the edge in bullpen (by a lot) and defense (by a fair amount). As for managing? Flip a coin.

What it’s going to come down is the health of the Tigers, namely Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander, while also keeping an eye on whatever’s going on with a watered-down Miguel Cabrera.

Sanchez is likely out until September with that side-muscle injury. I believe the Tigers can get by with fill-in starters until then. But if Verlander, with a sore shoulder, misses much more than his next start, then all bets are off.

Some of you will say Verlander hasn’t been very good, anyway. That’s true, to some extent.

The problem isn’t losing Verlander as much as it is who fills in for him. With Drew VerHagen likely out for the year with stress fractures in his lower back, the Tigers basically have one major league-ready spot starter, and that’s Robbie Ray. So the Tigers can weather one prolonged absence from a starter.

But a second? Folks, Buck Farmer was to pitch Wednesday night — the same Buck Farmer who was drafted just last June, and who until late July was pitching at Single-A West Michigan.

While the brass is impressed by Farmer’s makeup and his stuff — throwing two different change-ups is interesting — let’s call this what it is: A total rush job, made necessary by the Tigers inability to stockpile at least some respectable depth.

So I guess I’ll go with this: If Verlander misses just the one start, I’m sticking with Detroit. If he misses much more, I’ll probably have to side with Kansas City making the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

This much is certain: If the Tigers miss the playoffs, it’d go down as the greatest disappointment in franchise history, even worse than the two lackluster World Series showings in the last decade.

Question: Do you see any more deals coming for the Tigers before the Aug. 31 deadline? — Curtis

Answer: After the Tigers traded for David Price on July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski insisted he didn’t see how the ballclub would make any more moves before Aug. 31, the waiver trade deadline.

Now, you better believe Dombrowski’s exploring every possible avenue to upgrade a roster that includes too many rookies and too many folks from Triple-A Toledo.

The recent trip exposed every wart for the Tigers, and the result was a disastrous 2-7 swing through New York, Toronto and Pittsburgh that left Detroit a half-game back in the American League Central.

The Tigers could use some starting pitching, some relief pitching and some offense. Boy, they really need some offense after averaging just three runs a game over their last 10. Cabrera’s not Cabrera, Victor Martinez has cooled considerably, J.D. Martinez has come back to Earth, and the rookies on the infield continue to have their ups and downs.

That’s why the Tigers reportedly are interested in Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava, among others.

The problem with acquiring a player via the waiver system: It can be super tricky. For starters, there are so many contenders this year, that’s limited the pool of players being shopped. Then, teams with the best records — and, yes, the Tigers amazingly still have one of the better records in Major League Baseball — get the last chance to submit a claim. Then, even if they’re awarded a claim, they still have to have the pieces in the system to work out a trade.

The Tigers were able to do this several times in recent years, with the likes of Delmon Young, Aubrey Huff, Neifi Perez and others. Not sure they’ll be able to do it this time.

Several teams are looking to unload big salaries this time of year, but the Tigers aren’t in a position to just continue to throw money at the problem. In fact, money probably is the main reason they, stunningly, passed on putting in a claim for lefty reliever Matt Thornton last week.

Question: J.D. Martinez. Does he gain back some of his stroke, or is he the new Matt Tuiasosopo? — Clint Novak

Answer: This is a good question, and what happens here will go a long way in determining if the Tigers can right the ship and win a fourth consecutive AL Central title.

Martinez, 26, has been one of the better stories in the game this year, being let go by the awful Astros, only to be picked up by a World Series favorite, in the Tigers.

But Martinez definitely has slowed over the last month. In his last 24 games, he’s posted a slash line of .193/.256/.325. That gives him an anemic OPS of .581, down more than 300 points from his entire season’s work.

This is one of several reasons the Tigers offense has gone into the witness-protection program.

Obviously, there always was a good chance Martinez eventually was going to level off. I mean, at one point this year, his slash line .346/.380/.654, for a Mike Trout-like OPS of 1.034. That was never gonna continue ‘till season’s end, but his ascension was a big reason the Tigers felt OK trading Austin Jackson.

The fall, though, has been harder than I anticipated.

Like many young players, Martinez hit a slump and has been trying to force the issue ever since. He’s jumping at too many bad pitches early in the count, and the word has gotten out around the rest of the league. If Martinez can simply find the relaxed state at the plate he showed earlier this year, wait for his pitches, then start driving some of them the other way again, he can rebound.

The talent, most certainly, is there to do it. But if he can’t, his days of starting day in and day out could be coming to an abrupt end.

Question: As a casual fan of baseball, I’m not too knowledgeable about the business side of the sport. So I wanted to ask you if it were possible for the Tigers to do some sort of sign-and-trade with Max Scherzer before the 2015 season? — Jim Allen, via e-mail

Answer: That’s a good question.

Sign-and-trades aren’t really commonplace in baseball, like they are in other sports such as basketball. The closest thing I can recall in recent Tigers history was when they traded for Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield in November 2006.

Before the deal was finalized, Dombrowski had a 72-hour window to work out a contract extension — which he did, for two years and (gulp) $28 million.

That’s not even a sign-and-trade, that’s more of a trade-and-sign.

The Tigers would have no interest in doing any such thing with Scherzer. For starters, they need Scherzer if they’re to keep their playoff hopes alive. While panicked fans have reached fever pitch in pessimism, the Tigers brass remains all-in for this year, so trading away Scherzer would serve no purpose other than to unofficially eliminate them from postseason contention.

Second, Scherzer would have no interest in talking extension with any team that’s trading for him. He made perfectly clear this spring, when he turned down the Tigers’ not-so-serious offer of $144 million, that he was going to open up his services to a bidding war this offseason.

That stance, stated strongly by Scherzer and his agent, Scott Boras, hasn’t changed one bit.

Question: Favorite Robin Williams movie? — Tony Paul

Answer: Yeah, so I asked myself a question. Sue me.

Tuesday’s news of Williams’ death hit really hard for me, like it did with so many others. So many of his movies stayed with you forever. “Good Morning Vietnam” was one of the first grown-up movies I ever was allowed to watch. I still remember the theater where I watched “Good Will Hunting” (In Milwaukee). “Dead Poets Society” was stunning. “Aladdin,” tremendous.

But my favorite always will be “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Not only does it remain one of the funniest movies I’ve seen, I saw it right around the time my parents were getting divorced. I remember watching that and coming out of the theater thinking, “Everything’s going to be OK.”

Williams did much more than television and movies, of course. He did a whole lot of good. His “Comic Relief” benefits, with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, shined the spotlight on homelessness and raised millions for the cause. And he lent his name to countless other causes, too.

Another great one, gone too soon.

But this one, it hits harder than most.