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Mailbag: Are the Tigers still in the American League playoff hunt?

The Tigers have quietly won five of their last seven games and are still within striking distance of the AL wild card. Are they actually in the playoff race, though?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It's only three games. But the Detroit Tigers' first three-game win streak in nearly two months has them within two games of the .500 mark. They are 3 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card spot and their remaining schedule is chock full of the other playoff contenders in the race -- including a three-game set with the Angels next week.

But are they in the playoff race? Proximity to the wild card leaders helps, but there are still four teams between the Tigers and the Angels, and none of them put two of their starting pitchers on the disabled list on Thursday. The Blue Jays are threatening to run away with one of the wild card slots -- if they don't overtake the Yankees in their division -- while the Angels, Orioles, and Rangers (Thursday's games notwithstanding) have been playing good baseball for longer stretches than the Tigers.

Yes, there is a chance that the Tigers sneak into the wild card game. Fangraphs has their playoff odds at 8.8 percent after last night's win over the Rangers, which isn't good, but it's not zero. Lloyd Christmas would be psyched right now.

It would take a small miracle to pull off this comeback, though. Both Daniel Norris and Anibal Sanchez are on the shelf until Labor Day weekend, and given how finnicky obliques can be, Norris could be done for the season. Sanchez has dealt with that shoulder before as well, and probably won't be able to handle his usual workload after two-plus weeks off either.

This isn't like 2014 where you can stomach the loss of Sanchez in the rotation thanks to a pair of aces. Justin Verlander is the only known commodity on the starting staff at the moment. Alfredo Simon looked good on Thursday, but has struggled otherwise over the past couple months. The final three starters in the rotation are Randy Wolf, Matt Boyd, and Buck Farmer, who have combined for 42 2/3 innings at the major league level this season. Oh, and they're protecting that bullpen.

But. Yes, there's a but. In two wind-aided games in Chicago, the Tigers offense showed that it is capable of carrying their beleaguered pitching staff, racking up 25 runs and 40 hits against a solid pitching staff. They went 5-5 on a very difficult road trip, and have won five of their last seven games. Miguel Cabrera looks primed for one of those months where he switches the phasers from "stun" to "kill." Nick Castellanos has more RBI in his last three games than he had in June, and is hitting .286/.348/.524 since June 23. They can score runs in bunches, and have plenty of head-to-head opportunities to make up ground. It's unlikely. Very unlikely, I'd say. But it's possible.

Tell us everything we need to know about Randy Wolf. How is he going to fit into the rotation? Is he going to get hurt like everyone else? Is he going to increase my alcohol intake?

-Abigail D.

Randy Wolf has been around baseball forever. When Wolf made his MLB debut in 1999, new teammate Daniel Norris was six years old. Wolf spent eight years with the Philadelphia Phillies, then has bounced around the National League ever since. He has pitched for the Dodgers, Padres, Astros, Brewers, Orioles, and most recently, the Marlins. Now 39 -- today's his birthday, in fact -- Wolf has spent his entire season with the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate, where he has a 2.58 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 139 2/3 innings.

If you are expecting mid-90s heat from a 39-year-old lefty, I have bad news for you. Never one to light up the radar gun, Wolf's fastball averaged 88 miles per hour in his brief stint with Miami in 2014. He topped out at 92 miles per hour in one start, but sat south of 90 most of the time. He also features a slider, curveball, and changeup, and even threw a couple of eephus pitches in 2014. In other words, he's your prototypical soft-tossing lefty.

This move reeks of desperation for innings, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Tigers are taking the long view with some of their young arms in the minor leagues -- Fulmer and Luis Cessa among them -- and will likely curtail Matt Boyd's workload at the major league level at some point in September. Wolf is a gun for hire and will be gone at the end of the season, so his presence on the 40-man roster won't have any long-term impact. He has only pitched 25 2/3 innings at the major league level since 2012, so curtail any performance expectations you have. If he can work five innings a start and deliver a win or two along the way, this deal is a win.

If the Tigers were seriously about promoting their new top prospect, then my guess is that they would need to be within a game of the wild card by the end of the month. The Double-A Erie SeaWolves finish their season on September 7, but with a 51-71 record (ouch...), they don't have any playoff aspirations. The Tigers aren't likely to call up any SeaWolves this season no matter where they sit in the standings, in part because none of them are on the 40-man roster.

As for Fulmer, if the Tigers thought he were ready for the major leagues, he might already be up with the team. They still view themselves as in the playoff race -- they're only 3 1/2 games out, after all -- and with two starters on the shelf, there are holes in the rotation. However, with Fulmer's injury history and a hefty innings load already on that arm, it's probably best for his season to end at the beginning of September. While only 22, Fulmer has the raw stuff and command to contribute immediately out of the bullpen, but he's no slam dunk either. Calling him up would be a big risk, and wastes a valuable option year in the process.

Buck Farmer's stuff will likely play better in a relief role, but I don't think the Tigers should send him to the bullpen just yet. He is only 24 years old and has shown flashes of a solid changeup. His fastball has good movement on it, and is big enough to withstand a starter's workload. With so much uncertainty surrounding the rotation heading into this offseason -- at least two spots are currently up for grabs -- the Tigers would be wise to give Farmer at least one more year in the rotation.

Sure, the Tigers' bullpen has been awful, and pushing some of their fringy starters into relief roles could help improve that unit from within. However, Farmer is still only two years removed from being drafted out of Georgia Tech. His peers from last year's West Michigan Whitecaps rotation are still at Double-A or below, and he has been able to find success at the Triple-A level. If he can further develop his fastball command -- something he will need as either a starter or a reliever -- and a breaking ball, he could still become a solid innings eater down the road.