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Talking to Bless You Boys about the Mets’ rare trip to Detroit

The Mets are in the strange land of Michigan. To help us get a grasp of things, we reached out to SB Nation’s Tigers blog.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The exciting win that the Mets earned last night is proof that Jay Bruce is indeed awesome and that our team is not going to lose for the rest of the season. So relax, everyone.

There are other good teams in baseball, though. One of those is the Detroit Tigers. These guys just lost to the White Sox, but before that they rolled off eight straight victories to establish themselves as serious contenders in the American League Central. The Mets don’t visit Detroit too often, so it’s a bummer we won’t be seeing old friends Michael Fulmer and Mike Pelfrey this weekend, but there are still more than enough talented Detroit players to make this series very entertaining.

To help me describe them, I enlisted the help of Rob Rogacki from SB Nation Tigers blog Bless You Boys. In return, I answered some questions that Rob had about the Mets. You can read that conversation over at BYB.

The Tigers score a lot of runs, but they would score even more if Justin Upton was playing like he played for the last six years. Instead, he's striking out more, walking less, and hitting fewer home runs than we're used to. What's up with the former MVP candidate?

Rob Rogacki: Upton got off to a horrible start in Detroit, batting just .221/.242/.326 in April. He wasn't much better in May, and ended the month with a .590 OPS in 197 plate appearances. While there was a fair amount of swinging at junk off the plate, Upton was also swinging and missing within the strike zone a lot more -- he seemed to have a tough time catching up to fastballs for long stretches -- a major red flag for a player so heavily reliant on power.

Luckily for the Tigers, things have turned around. Upton is batting 261/.323/.473 since June 1, and posted an .842 OPS in July. Four of his 13 home runs have come in the three weeks since the All-Star break, and his plate discipline numbers have improved to career norms. The Tigers' local TV announcers have pointed out minor tweaks in his swing periodically over the past couple months, but my theory is that he just took a little while to adjust to American League pitching. Tigers fans saw similar (though much less severe) dips in production from both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder early on, and it's possible that Upton went through a similar phase.

As disappointing as Upton has been, I understand that Nick Castellanos has been that awesome. What started as a suspiciously fluky start has turned into a breakout season. What's going right for the young third baseman, and are you convinced that his performance is sustainable in the long run?

RR: Castellanos' breakout seems like it started in 2016, but we have actually traced it all the way back to June 2015. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus benched Castellanos for a few games against the Yankees, and he hit a robust .283/.329/.487 from his return on June 23 to the end of the season. Oddly, Castellanos has enjoyed similar success in 2016, but in a completely different way. FanGraphs' Eno Sarris pointed out a sharp improvement in Castellanos' plate discipline during the 2015 season, and suggested it was a big reason for his second half surge. Castellanos has gone in the opposite direction in 2016, swinging more often than ever before. His aggressiveness early in counts is paying off; he is batting over .300 and slugging over .500 on fastballs this year.

J.D. Martinez just returned from the disabled list and got some sort of hit in an important situation. I'm not sure how to explain this phenomenon. How excited are you for Martinez to rejoin a lineup that already includes such studs as Ian Kinsler, Miguael Cabrera, and Victor Martinez?

RR: J.D. Martinez's pinch-hit home run in his first at-bat off the disabled list has already worked its way into Tigers lore, in no small part because he has been a fan favorite since he broke onto the scene in 2014. Adding him to an already potent lineup -- Justin Upton batted seventh on Thursday -- makes this team one of the toughest outs in the majors. Martinez tends to run hot and cold at times, but he has already been driving the ball to all fields, a bad sign for opposing pitchers. This lineup is a lot of fun to watch when they get on a roll (provided you're not rooting for the opposing team).

Michael Fulmer is not pitching this weekend, but let's talk about him anyway since he's a former Mets prospect. He's done a great job limiting runs this season despite a modest strikeout rate. Is there another key to his success so far, or is this run mostly fueled by the .250 BABIP against him?

RR: I'm still not sure what to make of Fulmer's modest strikeout rate, because it's rather inconsistent. He has six outings with six strikeouts or more this year, including a pair of double-digit efforts, but five other starts with three or fewer strikeouts. His 10.9 percent swinging strike rate is well above for a starting pitcher, so one would imagine his strikeout rate will eventually perk up. When teams do put the ball in play, they are often pounding it into the ground; he has induced a 51.2 percent ground ball rate this season, and limited line drives to just 19.4 percent. Opponents seem to have a tough time squaring him up, even when his command isn't as sharp as it could be. I certainly don't expect him to maintain a 2.42 ERA for much longer, but his 3.21 deserved run average (DRA) seems about right. It will be a major disappointment for Tigers fans if he doesn't win the AL Rookie of the Year Award at this point.

Probable Pitchers

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Tigers Probable Starter
August 5, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Noah Syndergaard Justin Verlander
August 6, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Logan Verrett Matt Boyd
August 7, 2016 1:10 PM SNY Jacob deGrom Anibal Sanchez
Justin Verlander

Important stats: 147.1 IP, 155 K, 40 BB, 17 HR, 3.54 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.06 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (87 mph), curveball (78 mph), changeup (87 mph)

We also asked Rob about Verlander’s resurgence this year after a 2015 campaign that made it seem like he was over the hill. Here’s what our friend had to say:

Verlander's biggest issue over the past couple seasons has been simple: health. He never seemed right in 2014 after having core muscle repair surgery the offseason prior, and he missed nearly two months at the start of 2015 with a triceps injury. He hinted at things to come down the stretch in 2015, posting a 2.27 ERA with 8.24 strikeouts per nine in his final 14 starts. The 2016 season saw him get off to a slow-ish start, but also like the Verlander of old, he kicked things into another gear in May. Since a rough outing against the Indians on May 3, Verlander has a 2.64 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 112.2 innings.

One new wrinkle in Verlander's game is the addition of a cutter, a pitch that has been among his best in 2016. Opponents are hitting just .130 off it, and he has already shown the confidence to throw it to both righties and lefties with regularity. He has thrown the cutter largely at the expense of his slider, a mid-80s offering that was previously one of his best.

Mets opponent: Syndergaard hasn’t exactly been lights-out lately, but he’s still been plenty good in back-to-back quality starts against Colorado and St. Louis. The big right-hander is having a little bit of trouble putting hitters away these days, and that’s elevating both his walk rate and his pitch count. On Sunday, he needed 118 pitches just to get through six innings.

Matt Boyd

Important stats: 49.2 IP, 44 K, 15 BB, 8 HR, 4.71 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 1.27 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (80 mph), slider (83 mph), curveball (74 mph)

After coming to Detroit in the David Price trade last summer, Boyd has found a role for himself in the starting rotation as an injury replacement for Jordan Zimmermann and now Pelfrey. The 25-year-old southpaw had a couple of blow-ups in June, but he’s experiencing smoother sailing in July thanks to an increased strikeout rate. Last month he had a 2.21 ERA in 20.1 innings with 23 strikeouts and only four walks.

Mets opponent: One common thread between all of Logan Verrett’s lousy starts this year is that he’s walked a bunch of batters in all of them. That’s a little strange because he hasn’t had major control issues in any professional season before this one, but in 2016 Verrett is walking nearly four batters per nine innings. While coming up through the minors and in his first major league campaign in 2015, Verrett was always under three walks per nine, so if he can get that issue straightened out, there’s a good chance he proves to be effective down the stretch.

Anibal Sanchez

Important stats: 100.2 IP, 88 K, 44 BB, 18 HR, 6.26 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 1.63 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (85 mph), splitter (84 mph), sinker (91 mph), curveball (78 mph)

Sanchez’s last start against the White Sox went really well, as he allowed one run in six innings to pick up the win. Overall, though, Sanchez has been a mess this season. He’s been such a mess that the once dominant starter was relegated to the bullpen for most of June. Part of that problem is that the Venezuelan right-hander is walking nearly four batters per nine innings, but he’s also dealing with a .342 BABIP and a 65-percent strand rate. Add in 18 home runs in around 100 innings, and you’ve got everything you need for a really ugly ERA.

Mets opponent: Another day means another excuse to talk about how awesome Jacob deGrom is. In his last two starts, deGrom has 14 strikeouts in 14 innings with two walks and zero runs allowed. In his last eight starts, he has a 1.54 ERA with 46 strikeouts and eight walks in 46.2 innings. And that includes his disastrous outing in Miami. If you take that one out, deGrom looks even more awesome. The moral of the story is that even when deGrom is bad in Miami, he’s still awesome.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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