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Friday, August 23, 2013
Five challenges: Detroit Tigers

By Mark Simon

The Detroit Tigers are the most complete team the Mets will see this season and pose a host of formidable challenges. Here’s a look at five of the obstacles the Mets will have to overcome tonight:

1. Cabrera's bat
How good is Miguel Cabrera? Consider this: He’s reached base in 25 straight games, with a .326 batting average and .415 on-base percentage, but each of those seasonal statistics has actually decreased over that span. He’s dropped eight points to .354 and .447, respectively, for the season.

The best shot for a pitcher is to lure him into swinging at something low and away. Cabrera is good at laying off those pitches, but when he swings at pitches in that strike-zone quadrant (or those off the plate to that area), he misses more than one-third of the time. It’s by far his weakest area.

2. Martinez’s bat
Victor Martinez doesn’t have the power Cabrera does, but he’s getting hits at a comparable rate (hitting .337 this month) to make up for a lack of production from Prince Fielder.

Martinez, who normally DHs, may be moved back to catcher this weekend to get his bat in the lineup.

The switch-hitting Martinez isn’t so much swinging a bat from the left side this month as he is a 10-foot pole. He has as many hits (seven) as outs this month in at-bats that ended on a pitch out of the strike zone, including four hits on pitches that missed the outside corner by a good margin.

3. Fister’s curveball
The Tigers will throw Doug Fister in the opening game of this series, and he’s a tougher foe than his 3.63 ERA indicates.

Fister throws a nose-to-toes curveball that is tough to hit. Opponents miss on 41 percent of their swings against it, the fifth-highest rate in baseball for any starting pitcher’s curveball.

This will be Fister’s first time facing the Mets. The closest comparables in terms of what they’ll see will be longtime foes Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright and Kris Medlen, though Fister throws the slowest fastball of the four (88 mph on average). The Mets have beaten Wainwright and Lohse already this season.

The Mets will also want to be on the lookout when Fister throws. He’s hit 15 batters, tied for the most in the majors.

4. Iglesias' D
The Tigers shored up one of their biggest holes by acquiring shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox in a three-way deadline deal.

Iglesias is hitting .323 this season, as he’s been able to find holes on ground balls at an unusually high rate. (He’s a .257 minor league hitter.)

The bigger issue the Mets will have is hitting balls past him. Iglesias has 10 defensive runs saved in slightly more than 600 career innings at shortstop. He also turns double plays at an extremely high rate, converting 75 percent of DP opportunities in which he’s either the fielder or pivot man, better than the major league average of 65 percent.

5. The bullpen
Though the Tigers' bullpen lost Thursday, it has pitched well as a unit of late, with a 2.50 ERA since the All-Star break. It's headed by closer Joaquin Benoit, who has 12 saves and a 0.89 ERA in 21 appearances since June 27.

The most intriguing pitcher the Mets may see is righty Bruce Rondon, who lost Thursday’s game. He throws a fastball averaging 99.5 mph, fastest in the majors. It is a hittable pitch, though. Opponents are batting .305 against it this season.