Clash of the Titans: Tufts vs Amherst Playoff Preview

Overview:

NESCAC East Division Winner Tufts takes on number two seeded Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC Playoffs. Tufts finished the season at an outstanding 26-7-1 (9-3 in conference) with a total run differential of +163. In conference, the Jumbos put up double the amount of runs as their opponents (92 compared to 46). However, all this success has not come easy. Tufts’ dominant weekend performances have often been accompanied by a poorly played game occasionally.  In the highly-contested playoff format, the Jumbos cannot afford to dig themselves in a hole with a sloppy game to start off the postseason. Amherst, on the other hand, has been in playoff mode for two weeks now. The winner of their final weekend series against Wesleyan decided the two seed in the West Division, and Amherst prevailed. They finished the season at 19-14 overall but a solid 8-4 in conference. Interestingly enough though, their home record stood at 7-8 compared to their incredible away record at 9-1. Nonetheless, the playoffs represent the start of a new season and Amherst looks to ride their NESCAC hot streak into them. Having won the last 3 NESCAC series, the team proved to recover from the rough start and look for a win to start the postseason.

Likely Pitching Matchup: Speros Varinos ’17 (8-1, 1.60 ERA, 68 K) vs Jackson Volle ‘17 (5-1, 2.74,

Speros Varinos
Speros Varinos ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Jackson Volle
Jackson Volle ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Both teams will likely throw their aces in game one of the postseason. Coincidently, these players were the two chosen as First-Team All-NESCAC last season. Speros Varinos ’17 throughout the season has proven again and again that he is the best pitcher in the NESCAC hands down. Finishing the season at 8-1 in 9 starts, Varinos led the league in wins, ERA at 1.60 and strikeouts, 68. He is our pick to win NESCACPitcher of the Year and likely will do just that, defending his title. All season, Varinos has shown his dominance and is ready to take on the Amherst lineup. Jackson Volle ’17 has put together an excellent season himself. In 7 starts, he went 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA. However, this number was weighed down by one poor start against Wesleyan in which Volle allowed 6 earned runs in his only loss. Take that start out and his ERA sits at roughly a full point lower around 1.76. Amherst looks for Volle to put together another strong performance against a talented Tufts offense.

Tufts X-Factor: Nick Falkson ‘18

Nick Falkson
Nick Falkson ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Player of the Year candidate Nick Falkson has put together a phenomenal year. With depth in the infield, Coach Casey often rides the hot bat which explains why Falkson leads the team in such a category. Hitting .394/.468/.504, Falkson has consistently been one of Tufts’ best and most clutch hitters. Sitting in the heart of the lineup, he has hit in 34 runs and scored another 29. However, what stands out most about his season is the correlation between his success at the plate and team wins. In the 25 wins this season, Falkson has hit .430/.516/.540 with 31 of his 34 RBIs. In the team’s 7 losses, his averages drop significantly to .250/.240/.250. The Jumbos will look for Falkson to lead the offense in this first round matchup. If the trend continues, a big game from him could mean a Tufts win.

Amherst X-Factor: Harry Roberson ‘18

Harry Roberson
Harry Roberson ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

While slightly overshadowed by teammate Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Harry Roberson has been a crucial part of this Amherst lineup. Leading the team with 135 at-bats, the shortstop has hit .363/.418/.548. These hits have led to a conference leading 38 runs scored. When facing a pitcher like Varinos, runs are hard to come by, so Roberson must continue to be aggressive on the base paths. He is 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts, but has additionally hit for power. Of the seasons 49 hits, 17 have been for extra bases including 11 doubles and 4 triples. Amherst will continue to rely on Roberson for these extra base hits as they will not be able to win leaving men on base. Roberson will likely need a big game for Amherst to beat Varinos and the Tufts staff.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the powerful offenses from both teams, this game will likely be a pitchers’ duel. Tufts will look to get Volle’s pitch count up and get to the bullpen while Amherst will have the same approach on their side. Either way, both teams are capable of not only winning this game, but making a run deep in the postseason. However, getting a win with their respective ace would prove to be a huge advantage in this two loss elimination format. After the grind of the regular season, both teams are ready for playoff action to get underway.

Prediction:

Varinos will put up another outstanding performance, but Volle will keep it close with a strong effort of his own. The Tufts lineup will then get to the Amherst bullpen late and come out on top in game one of the postseason.

Tufts 5 Amherst 2

Coaches Come and Coaches Go: Middlebury vs Bates Playoff Preview

Overview:

This match-up has Mike Leonard’s fingerprints all over it. The former coach of Bates has reshaped the Middlebury program with the kind of efficiency usually reserved for college students with a final due the next morning. But, as evidenced by their playoff spot, Leonard didn’t leave Bates wanting for talent. Both teams are loaded with good young players, and have seen those players lead them to playoff spots that no one predicted before the season began. The teams are trending in different directions though. After a scorching 7-0 start in league play, Bates has dropped their last five, while Middlebury has played well the whole second half and finished at 8-4 in NESCAC play.

Bates’ strength all year has been their pitching. The have the second best team ERA in the league at 3.60, and during league play that number has dropped to 2.65, best in the league. They also are the third best fielding team in the league, with a .962 fielding percentage and 41 errors in 31 games. Bates doesn’t beat themselves, and is well suited to shut down the best offenses in the league. However, the Bobcats simply can’t score. They are last in the league in batting average and slugging percentage (.229 and .275 respectively.) Four of their five losses in league play have been by one run, and that trend is entirely due to an inability to get a big hit, particularly with runners in scoring position.

Middlebury has been a far more consistent team this season, but offense is certainly their strong suit. They have a .302 team average and a .434 slugging percentage, good for second and third in the league. Ryan Rizzo ‘17 sets the table at the top of the order and is a terror on the basepaths with 19 steals. And then fellow senior Jason Lock ‘17 knocks him in (30 RBI on the season.) Justin Han ‘20 provides good power with four home runs, and Sam Graf ‘19 rounds the lineup out with a combination of power, contact and speed that is rare in the league. The Panthers’ pitching was a problem early in the season, but has come together of late. Colby Morris ‘19 is coming off a Pitcher of the Week award, and Spencer Shores ‘20 has been stellar all throughout league play with a 2.29 ERA.

(Likely) Pitching Matchup:

Bates: Connor Speed ‘19 (1-5, 2.17 ERA, 40 K in 49.2 innings)

Connor Speed
Connor Speed ’19 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Speed gets two awards here. He is the runaway winner of the “Most Appropriate Name” award, and also the “Unluckiest Pitcher” award. He has gotten miniscule run support all season, finishing with only one win despite a 2.17 ERA. He also has gotten weirdly poor defensive effort behind him. He has allowed 25 runs on the year, and only 12 of them have been earned. All this to say that Speed is an ace; he just doesn’t have the won-loss record to back it up. He strikes out a fair amount of batters (over seven per nine innings) and has good control. Speed is one of the few pitchers in the league who have the ability to shut down an excellent Middlebury lineup.

Middlebury: Spencer Shores ‘20 (4-0, 4.25 ERA, 42 IP, 39 K)

Spencer Shores
Spencer Shores ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panthers have a tough decision to make here. Colby Morris has had several rough performances in league play, but is the reigning Pitcher of the Week after out-dueling Tufts ace Speros Varinos ‘17 4-0 last weekend. Shores, on the other hand, has peaked in league play and has been more consistent throughout the season. But he is a first year, and starting an inexperienced pitcher in such a big game would give any coach pause. The thing that I think puts Shores over the top (in addition to the fact that he’s earned it by pitching very well) is that he is well rested. He hasn’t pitched since a rain shortened game against Bowdoin two weekends ago. Unfortunately, he did not pitch well in that game, giving up four runs in just 2.2 innings. Middlebury will have to choose between these two young starters.

Middlebury X-Factor: RP Connor Himstead ‘19 (1.56 ERA, 7 SV)

Conor Himstead
Connor Himstead ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury’s starting pitching inconsistencies have been mitigated by having maybe the best closer in the league. Middlebury, like Bates, has the tendency to end up in a lot of close games, so having a closer who they can rely to hold a lead has been one of the most important parts of their season. He  strikes guys out (17 in 17 innings) and only gave up 12 hits in those 17 innings as well. Bates’ terrific pitching signals a potential close game here; meaning that Himstead will get some work. He will be called on to hold a lead for Middlebury, or possibly to keep the game close to give the offense a chance to come back. Either way, he will be very important come Friday.

Bates X-Factor: OF Will Sylvia ‘20 (.306/.457/.389, 18 BB)

Will Sylvia
Will Sylvia ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

As I said above, Bates’ offense has been mediocre (to put it lightly) all season. Sylvia has been one bright spot. Despite being a freshman, he has shown incredible plate discipline all year and has had a hand in most of Bates’ rallies on the year. His role in the lineup in primarily as a table setter due to his ability to get on base. Unfortunately, he is often stranded on base because Bates doesn’t have a run producer who is a threat to knock him in. To score in this series, Bates will have to manufacture runs, and they certainly won’t do that without Sylvia having a big series.

Final Thoughts:

The location of the game (Colby College) would seem to benefit Bates. They should bring a fairly good crowd with them, and should have less travel fatigue than the Panthers, who have a five hour drive.

The coaching change, however, should benefit the Panthers. Leonard might be able to give scouting reports on his former players, including likely starter Connor Speed. Middlebury’s reliance on first years may help them as well, as Bates will not have as much information on them as they do on the older players.

Prediction:

I think the game will remain close the whole time, as the strong pitching of both teams should keep the offenses at bay. However, Bates does not have the offense to break the game open, while Middlebury does.

Middlebury 3 – Bates 1