Wesleyan: NESCAC Champs

A whirlwind 2014 NESCAC baseball season came to an end on a groundball to second with Wesleyan clinging to a two run lead. Tufts mounted a valiant comeback down six entering the eighth inning, but they had dug too much of a hole for themselves. The Jumbos had looked like the best team in the NESCAC for most of the season, but they came up short in the end. The real story was a Wesleyan team that completed a somewhat improbable run through the NESCAC regular season and tournament.

This was a Wesleyan team that never matched the gaudy stats of Amherst or Tufts, but proved for the millionth time that college baseball isn’t a game played on paper. The knack of winning close games is still one of the more less understood aspects of baseball, a sport that at times seems to be continually moving towards some type of statistical singularity. Wesleyan won games by never backing down in big spots. Yes I could talk all about the timely pitching from the entire pitching staff or the offense that featured talent from top to bottom, but that doesn’t really explain how Wesleyan won.

Winning just one game off of a squeeze in a season would be a notable feat, but having three is borderline absurd. Wesleyan is more than talented enough to win comfortably against lesser teams going 8-1 against the bottom three of the NESCAC West. When the talent level evens out, the Cardinals are able to do what many others teams can’t: be flexible. They aren’t tied to one particular way of playing baseball in order to win. They are just as comfortable hitting a couple three run homers to win a slugfest as playing small ball.

Wesleyan’s run differential last weekend was -6. -6! They won three very close baseball games, got blown out in another, and ended up champions. They didn’t win pretty, but they won. Since their 8-5 trip to Arizona, the Cardinals have gone 19-6. Of course that includes one stretch in the middle of the season when they went 13-1 meaning in their last 11 games they are only 6-5. They defy expectations and definition. We have been underselling Wesleyan all year, putting them a notch below Tufts and Amherst. Even after Wesleyan clinched the NESCAC West over Amherst, we predicted the Jeffs would get revenge in the NESCAC tournament by bouncing Wesleyan in the de facto semi-final game. That disrespect has been proven wrong time and time again. Their slow start clouded our minds from what is a very complete baseball team.

On Twitter Wesleyan players express this attitude in hashtags, retweets, and favorites. If you look at a Wesleyan player’s Twitter bio it will most likely include the phrase Tech baseball. Their favorite hashtag is the affectionate #dirtybirds. Wesleyan has followed the #dirtybirds mantra all season. They win games in any manner of ways by mashing, finessing, or clawing their way to victory. They bear a slight resemblance to the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. That team played an epic seven game World Series against the Yankees that ended with a walk-off homer by Bill Mazeroski. Every game Pittsburgh won was a close fought game while the Yankees won their three games in dominant fashion. Didn’t matter, Pirates won the series. When Tufts forced a final winner take all game by routing the Cardinals Sunday morning, nobody panicked. Wesleyan didn’t take the game as a sign that Tufts was a more talented or better team. They turned to Chris Law ’14 on the mound and jumped out to a 6-0 lead that ended holding up.

The disrespect still hasn’t stopped. Despite winning head to head match-ups against both Tufts and Amherst recently, the May 12 NEIBA (New England InterCollegiate Baseball Association) poll ranked Wesleyan eighth, Tufts third, and Amherst fourth in New England. Wesleyan is the seventh seed in their regional. Amherst and Tufts were both awarded three seeds in their respective regionals. People don’t know what to make of a team that doesn’t seem to be THAT good, but keeps coming out on top.

Wesleyan manager Mark Woodworth is happy to be back in the NCAA tournament. The last time Wesleyan made the tournament was in 1994 when Woodworth was a senior captain. That season saw the Cardinals make a magical run all the way to the National Title game before losing in the final. Wesleyan’s style of having no particular style will work well in the double-elimination format of the NCAA’s. Woodworth has crafted a team capable of making a run similar to that one by continuing to surprise teams that don’t understand what makes these Dirty Birds go.

Saturday Recap

Saturday brought more excitement and intrigue with two teams going home in the NESCAC tournament’s version of moving day.

Wesleyan jumped into the driver’s seat with a scintillating 3-2 victory over Tufts. Both starters shut down the offenses early with the game scoreless through four innings. Tufts struck first in the top of the fifth on a Max Freccia ’14 double to score Wade Hauser ’15. Wesleyan battled back when they played some small ball. Andrew Yin ’15 plated Nick Miceli ’17 on a bunt single. After a Donnie Cimino ’15 single, both runners moved up on a double steal, and scored on a Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 single. Gavin Pittore ’16 made sure the lead held up with 4.2 innings of one run ball in relief. He jumped all over Tufts’ hitters with nine strikeouts and moves to 6-1 on the season. A more complete recap can be found here. Also a thanks to Wescores for providing pictures of the game here.

Now the Cardinals head into tomorrow in complete control. Manager Mark Woodworth made clear how much he wanted to win when he brought in Pittore so quickly in relief. The move made perfect sense since a loss would have made Wesleyan need three more wins to take the championship. It is unclear who will get the start tomorrow for the Cardinals, but Woodworth will probably be ready to use any of his pitchers including Pittore and Nick Cooney ’15.

In the loser’s bracket Bates beat Amherst in what was the most surprising result of the day. Bates rallied from down 2-1 to score three runs in the eighth to win 4-2 and bounce Amherst from the tournament. No doubt a disappointing finish for Amherst, but all the credit should be given to a Bates team that proved they are right there with the best teams in the NESCAC this weekend. Dean Bonneau ’14 was spectacular in relief allowing only one hit in 3.2 scoreless innnings. A complete recap can be found here.

The last game of the day was another elimination game between East Division foes Tufts and Bates. Tufts used a five run third inning to take much of the suspense out of the game. Christian Sbily ’14 and Tom Ryan ’15 made sure the lead had no problem holding up for Tufts as they cruised to a 7-1 victory. Recap is here. Bates finishes the season at 20-21, but that record vastly undersells the quality of team they were. Tufts moves onto the championship where they will have to win two games tomorrow against Wesleyan.

It will be a tall task for Tufts to beat Wesleyan twice especially given that their three top pitchers have already started this weekend. The potential ability for pitchers to quickly turn around and pitch even one or two innings will be a huge difference maker. Right now a Wesleyan team that started only 5-4 looks primed to finish off a dominant run through the NESCAC regular season and playoffs.

Friday Recap: Postseason Edition

The first round of the NESCAC championship is in the books, and Tufts and Wesleyan won some amazing baseball games to advance to Day Two undefeated.

Amherst’s John Cook ’15 got the start for the Jeffs and rolled into the bottom of the fifth. Cook struck out leadoff man James Howard ’15, but the ball skittered away, allowing Howard to reach. The error would prove crucial when shortstop Matt Moser ’16 smashed a three-run double to make the score 4-1 in Tufts’ favor. Amherst responded in the sixth with a two-run homer from Conner Gunn ’16, but the Jumbos blew the game open in the eighth, when a hit by pitch and two singles allowed four more runs to score. Moser ended the day with five RBIs, while leadoff man Connor McDavitt ’15 got the offense rolling by going 5-5 and stealing a base.
Read the NESCAC recap here and check out some photos.

Wesleyan’s Nick Cooney ’15 was unhittable into the seventh inning against Bates, but his own throwing error on a Conor Reenstierna ’16 bunt allowed three runs to score for Bates in the top of the seventh, making the score 3-2 Bates. Ben Hoynes ’15 hit a sac fly in the eighth to tie the game off of Sam Maliska ’15 who relieved starter Brad Reynolds ’14 earlier in the inning. Wesleyan brought its top of order to the plate in the ninth to face Maliska. After Maliska struck out Andrew Yin ’14, he hit Donnie Cimino ’15 with a pitch and walked Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, earning himself the hook in favor of Rob DiFranco ’16, who promptly hit Guy Davidson ’16 to load the bases. For the third time this season, Wesleyan walked off with a suicide squeeze against a NESCAC opponent when Will O’Sullivan ’17 dropped one down back to the pitcher and Cimino beat the throw home to win 4-3.
Check out the NESCAC recap here.

Amherst and Bates will square off tomorrow morning at 10:30, while Tufts will play Wesleyan at the same time on Tufts’ home turf. The Amherst/Bates winner and Tufts/Wesleyan loser will play an elimination game at 2:30 on Huskins Field.

The Predictions Are In

We promised predictions so here they are. One thing to keep in mind here is that we have no info about what the pitching matchups are going to look like this weekend. For instance, last year’s NESCAC Pitcher of the Year John Cook from Amherst pitched the second game while Bowdoin opted to pitch their ace Oliver Van Zant in the first game. We will tell you who we think will be pitching each game, but the variability is high here. Yes, we are already making hedging our predictions before we even make them.

First Round

East 1. Tufts (30-5,9-3) vs. West 2. Amherst (28-7, 9-3)

The Prediction: Tufts 4- Amherst 2

Why: Expect Tufts to start Kyle Slinger ’15 here in order to get Tufts off to a fast start. Projecting Amherst’s starter is a little harder, but we think John Cook ’15 to get the call. This pick comes down to Slinger being too good for even the powerful Amherst lineup. Cook has been pitching almost as well, but Tufts’ depth will challenge him.

West 1. Wesleyan (24-10, 10-2) vs East 2. Bates (19-19, 7-5)

The Prediction: Wesleyan 6- Bates 3

Why: Both teams should go with their lefty aces: Nick Cooney ’15 for Wesleyan and Brad Reynolds ’14 for Bates. Wesleyan knows their conference best record means nothing if Reynolds shuts them down and sends them to an elimination game against Amherst. They will make Reynolds work and try to get him out of the game early before scoring late to advance.

Winner’s Bracket

West 1. Wesleyan  vs East 1. Tufts

The Prediction: Tufts 7- Wesleyan 5

Why: This is where things start to get tricky in projecting pitchers, but expect Wesleyan to go with Jeff Blout ’14 and Tufts to start freshman phenom Tim Superko ’17. The winner of this game is in the drivers seat needing only one more game to win while the loser needs to win three more games to win the championship. Tufts roughs up Blout enough to hold off a late Wesleyan rally after Superko leaves a short but successful outing.

Loser’s Bracket

West 2. Amherst  vs East 2. Bates

The Prediction: Amherst 9- Bates 1

Why: Bates turns to Chris Fusco ’14 on the mound who can’t contain the Amherst offense led by Mike Odenwaelder ’16. Facing elimination Dylan Driscoll ’14 rebounds from recent tough outings to go the distance and save the other Amherst pitchers for later in the weekend.

West 1. Wesleyan vs. West 2. Amherst

The Prediction: Amherst 8- Wesleyan 7

Why: The weekend’s most intense and exciting game will end with a late inning Amherst rally downing their rival. Gavin Pittore ’16 gets the call for the Cardinals while Amherst counters with Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14. Neither pitcher is able to last more than six innings, but the difference is the Amherst bullpen holds up when the Wesleyan one can’t.

The Championship

East 1. Tufts vs West 2. Amherst

The Prediction: Tufts 6- Amherst 4

Why: The advantage of the winner’s bracket is that Tufts can use their final weekend starter Christian Sbily ’14 while Amherst has to go with Keenan Szulik ’16 who only entered the rotation near the end of the season. Tufts won’t let this go to a winner take all championship game by jumping on Szulik early. A potential wild card for Amherst is Fred Shepard ’14 who pitched a complete game for Amherst to clinch the championship last year but has only one appearance since April 14.

Sorry if you think our predictions light on game analysis, but predictions are inherently tricky tasks. Predicting specific games is even more of a toss-up. Enjoy the games this weekend if you can make watch live in Massachusetts or watching online with Northeast Sports Network.

Power Rankings Part 3- The West Playoff Teams

We wrap up the Power Ranks with the two West playoff teams. Same format as the East, and the numbers coincide to their overall ranking this week. We will have our predictions for the weekend up tomorrow morning so make sure to check back in.

3. Amherst (28-7, 9-3)

Why They’ll Win: Amherst might be the only team who could give Tufts a running in the “most sheer talent” category. Their lineup is filled with dangerous hitters, most notably ace leadoff hitter and shortstop Taiki Kasuga ‘14, who comes into the playoffs batting .366, and Mike Odenwaelder ‘16, the Miguel Cabrera of this NESCAC season. Odenwaelder comes into the playoffs at least in the top three of every major offensive category known to man, and leading in batting average and slugging percentage, at .417 and .658 respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, Odenwaelder also sports a 1.74 ERA out of the bullpen. When you combine these offensive threats with the three-headed beast in the rotation of Dylan Driscoll ‘14, John Cook ‘15 and Quinn Saunders-Kolburg ‘14, Amherst looks as deep as any team except maybe Tufts.

Why They’ll Lose: The blueprint for beating Amherst was shown two weekends back when Wesleyan took two out of three from the Jeffs. In that series, Wesleyan was able to get to Driscoll early in game one, making the other matchups more even. Each game in the series was close, decided by 2 runs or less, and Wesleyan’s propensity for clutch hitting helped them in the first two games, one of which went 9 innings. The final game of the series was a classic, going 11 innings, with Odenwaelder hitting a two run homer to end it. If teams follow this formula, and scrape out a win against Driscoll, than either of the other matchups in the double-elimination weekend could come out against Amherst’s favor. By the way, Driscoll has been another pitcher in NESCAC play, with a below average 4.10 ERA.

Sleeper-Catcher Connor Gunn ‘16: As his last name implies, Gunn is a superb defensive catcher, who certainly deserves some credit for the success of Amherst’s pitching this season. While his overall offensive statistics are not eye-popping, he has shifted into another gear in NESCAC play, batting at .349 with a .899 OPS. This success has firmly planted him in the fifth spot in the lineup, behind season-long sluggers Odenwaelder and outfielder Alex Hero ’14. This middle of the order probably constitutes the best in NESCAC, and if Gunn can continue to constitute the back end of that threat, Amherst is probably pretty well set to repeat their tournament success from last year.

2. Wesleyan (24-10, 10-2)

Why They’ll Win: Wesleyan’s confidence is at an all-time high right now after posting a league best 10-2 record in NESCAC play, including taking two out of three from Amherst on the weekend of April 25. While Wesleyan certainly has the all around balance of any great NESCAC team, it’s their offense that carries them. Sam Goodwin-Boyd ‘15 has been solid all season, but in league play he has been unbelievable, batting .422 with a ridiculous .711 slugging percentage. Jonathon Dennett ‘15 and Guy Davidson ‘15, both of whom also rank in the top ten in NESCAC for RBI, flank him in the lineup. When you pair these sluggers with table setters like Andrew Yin ’15 and Donnie Cimino ’15, it makes for a potent lineup that any pitching staff would struggle to contain.

Why They’ll Lose: Wesleyan certainly has chinks in their armor that could cost them in this weekend. Although their pitching has stepped up to the plate (pardon the pun) in NESCAC play, posting a 2.10 ERA, for the season they come in with a mediocre 3.72, pointing to early inconsistencies in the rotation. Their main starting pitchers, Nick Cooney ‘15, Jeff Blout ’14 and Gavin Pittore ‘16, have all been solid, but can struggle with their control at times, leading to extra base runners. And against a well-oiled machine like Amherst or Tufts this weekend, mistakes like that are not often forgiven.

Sleeper- Relief pitcher Peter Rantz ‘16: If Wesleyan does have shaky performances from any of those three key starters, Rantz will be crucial in righting the ship, and giving the offense a chance to slug their way back into the game. Rantz was putting together a nice year out of the pen, with a 3.06 ERA, but has struggled mightily in NESCAC play. At his best, he is a guy who can relieve a struggling starter in the third inning and keep them in the game. It is likely this weekend Wesleyan will need to have that option.

Power Rankings Part 2- The East Playoff Teams

We ranked every team that team that is already done for the season, and now it is time to move our attention to those still playing. Since it is too early to wrap up their seasons, we will look towards the weekend. We cover why each team will win, each team will lose, and the player no one is talking about right now who we will be on Monday. And no, we don’t miss that irony. The NESCAC website championship weekend preview is also worth a look with a good overview of the four teams. Finally, we are breaking up the East and West. Note the rankings for each team are only relevant in our power rankings Just because we are putting Tufts first in the final power rankings doesn’t mean we think they will necessarily win. Our predictions will be out Friday morning.

4. Bates (19-19, 7-5)

Why They Will Win: Bates is playing with more and more confidence every week. That confidence isn’t shaken by losing four games in a row this week to Suffolk and St. Joseph’s (Maine). Their senior trio of Brad Reynolds ’14, Kevin Davis ’14, and Griff Tewksbury ’14 have to play extraordinary to give them a chance. If Reynolds pitches in the first game against Wesleyan, he will benefit from their lack of familiarity against him. Expect Reynolds to make relief appearances as well in his final college weekend. Davis and Tewksbury will have to carry an offense that lacked depth at the beginning of the year. Guys like Rockwell Jackson ’15, Brendan Fox ’17, and Sam Warren ’16 have done a great job stepping up and making sure it isn’t just a two man rodeo. Those guys need to continue to produce in order to score enough runs. The formula for success is a great start by Reynolds, a clean weekend fielding, and contributions up and down the lineup.

Why They Will Lose: If Bates loses the game Reynolds starts, then it’s chances of winning the whole tournament will all but disappear. There is no doubt that Bates is the least talented team in the whole tournament so it needs it’s strengths to be especially strong. The defensive problems we saw earlier in the year flared up this week in a four error game against St. Joseph’s. The real weakness for Bates is their pitching behind Reynolds. Chris Fusco is a senior who has pitched a lot of games, but his 5.35 ERA belies the fact that relying on him is a risky proposition. Will Levangie ’15 has a miniscule ERA (1.65), but has made only one relief appearance in the last four weeks so his status for this weekend is unclear. A host of relievers have pitched well in more limited roles, and it is possible Bates shuffles pitchers in and out to keep hitters from seeing anybody multiple times.

Sleeper- Dean Bonneau ’14 Relief Pitcher: One of the overlooked Bates seniors has quietly put together a nice season out of the bullpen. In 22 innings Bonneau has a 1.64 ERA and 9.00 K/9. He could be called on if one of the Bates starters falters early on. Bates will stretch whatever is working as much as possible, and Bonneau could be a magic balm for any pitching shortcomings that crop up.

1. Tufts (30-5, 9-3)

Why They Will Win: Over the course of the season, Tufts has proven themselves to be the most complete team in the NESCAC. They have scored more runs, gotten on base more often, allowed less runs, and committed less errors than every team in the NESCAC. Kyle Slinger ’15 is the best pitcher in the NESCAC, and Christian Sbily ’14 and Tim Superko ’17 are no slouches either. The three starters are also the top three in ERA for the NESCAC. On the other side of the ball we wrote about how Connor McDavitt has exploded at the top of the lineup, and Tufts deep lineup gets on base nearly four times out of ten (.398 team OBP). Their 30 wins in the regular season is an impressive accomplishment that shows the quality of player on the roster from the first to last player. Tufts will win if their starting pitching steps up once again like they have every time they have been called on this year.

Why They Will Lose: In a double elimination setting, games aren’t won on paper. Every team has weaknesses, and Tufts is no different with a bullpen that blew leads in three NESCAC games. Tom Ryan ’15 is the main reliever out of the pen, and he was involved in two of those games. Behind him the bullpen looks to be mainly Matt Moser ’16 and Spero Varinos ’17. The more games Tufts plays this weekend, the more and more their bullpen could be exposed. While we talked about how balanced Tufts’ hitting is, the flip side of that is they don’t have a go to thumper in the middle of the lineup. Put another way, Tufts relies on wearing down pitchers more than hitting the ball out of the park. The Jumbos have hit the least amount of homers of any team in the playoffs, though really only Amherst has a significant amount more. With the pitching improving in the playoffs, it’s possible Tufts will struggle to score runs.

Sleeper- Nick Cutsumpas ’14 Catcher: Ok, so it isn’t like Cutsumpas hasn’t performed all year with his .432 OBP and steady defense behind the plate, but others have hogged the headlines for the most part. The senior is somewhat of a streaky hitter. His last seven games with a hit have all been multi-hit games. If he gets hot this weekend, forget about it, Tufts will be too good to be beat.

Meet Forward Nick Tarantino, Middlebury ’18

The school year is almost over, and next year’s recruiting classes are finalized, barring any last minute surprises. Nick Tarantino, Middlebury class of 2018, visited campus recently for the school’s Preview Days, spending the night on campus and attending class. He was kind of enough to find a few minutes to sit down and talk with me at lunch. Tarantino is a 6’7″ PF out of BB&N in Cambridge, Mass, who brings a long wingspan, intense defense, and a versatile offensive game to the floor. Tarantino will be part of a recruiting class replacing Middlebury’s successful 2014 class that featured PG Joey Kizel, SF/PF James Jensen, C Jack Roberts and G Nate Bulluck.

Joe MacDonald: What’s basketball like at BB&N?
Nick Tarantino: When I initially was recruited there it was totally a football school. The basketball program was kind of in shambles. The basketball team was all football players. They were athletic but they weren’t really skilled. I came in my sophomore year, and we improved each year, and this year, my senior year, we had the best year in school history. We had 20 wins, we beat the number one seed in the playoffs. Our coach got his 500th career win. It was just an awesome season. It was kind of awesome to just build your own program.

JM: What’s the best memory of your BB&N career?
NT: Getting that playoff win this year vs. Choate. They had so many great players, highly-touted, and we beat them in their place.

JM: Have you played AAU basketball?
NT: I’ve played for the Boston Warriors since 8th grade.

JM: How does that compare to basketball at BB&N?
NT: It’s a lot different, because you’re playing with city kids some times, you’re playing with public school kids, which is very different than playing prep basketball. Much more fast-paced, more scrappy, but it improves you as a player overall, just seeing the different styles. And then just the travel, you get more exposure. You get to play around the country.

JM: What was the recruiting process like for you?
NT: Basically, at the end of my junior year colleges started contacting me, and all through AAU season, more and more colleges contacted me. There were a lot of D-III colleges, but I really was looking for a high academic school like Middlebury, so I kind of narrowed it down to the NESCAC schools and WPI. Middlebury, actually, didn’t come in until very late, mid-August, maybe. As soon as Coach Brown contacted me I wanted to come up and do a visit because I had heard so much about this school and about the basketball program. When I came up I loved it.

JM: Was there a moment when you knew Middlebury was right for you?
NT: I just think the overnight visit. Just getting to know the team, and just getting to hear how the guys loved it here.

JM: How did you get along with the guys on the team?
NT: I’ve met the freshmen [class of 2017] guys. That’s pretty much it. But they all seem really nice. And I’ve seen a couple games and they seem to have a really talented group of seniors [class of 2015] coming back next year. I’m really excited for it.

JM: What do you think about the level of player here as opposed to at BB&N or in AAU?
NT: It’s totally different. The speed of the game and the size. I would most definitely be a center in any high school league and here I could probably play power forward, and there’s some schools, like Amherst and Williams, that have guards my size.

JM: How do you feel about Coach Jeff Brown?
NT: He’s awesome. I’ve heard so many great things about him. I’m just so excited to play next winter for him.

JM: Have you competed against any other NESCAC players in high school or AAU?
NT: Yeah, a ton of kids. Conn College has a huge freshman class coming in. They kind of have a pipeline with the Middlesex Magic [a rival AAU program]. The MVP of my league is going there, Aaron Swanson. A kid from Choate is going there. A kid who was on my AAU team is going there.

JM: Are you looking forward to continuing some of those rivalries?
NT: Oh yeah, definitely. Not just rivalries, but I just like competing against those guys. They’re great people, I don’t dislike them or anything, but it’s always fun to have competition.

JM: How would you describe yourself as a player?
NT: I think I’m unselfish for the most part, sometimes a little too much. I’m willing to give it all for my teammates, sell out my body, take charges, grab rebounds. The team definitely comes first. I don’t even look at the stat book after the game. As long as the scoreboard favors us, I don’t care.

JM: How do you see yourself fitting into the team on the floor?
NT: I can play inside-out, so I’ll give the team some great spacing. I think I can defend the 4 and 5 spot for the most part. If I get quicker, maybe the 3, but I’m still a little ways away from that. If I get quicker laterally.

JM: Would you compare yourself to James Jensen defensively?
NT:  I would love to be able to do what he did. That would be awesome. He was a great player. He kind of reminded me of Shawn Marion almost with those long arms and being able to cover 1-5.

JM: Who’s going to win the NBA Championship?
NT: I’m gonna go with the Spurs. They have the best coach in the NBA and that’s how you win. It’s all strategy, it’s all the grinding, the halfcourt offense, the halfcourt defense. I mean it’s fun to watch teams like the Thunder and the Clippers and the Heat because they’re up-tempo, but that doesn’t always pull it out in the playoffs. You saw that three years ago when Dallas beat Miami in the championship.

 

Thanks again to Nick Tarantino for sitting down with us, and best of luck next season.

Power Rankings Part 1

Last week we promised a big blowout of the Power Rankings, and today we deliver. We take a look at all the teams that won’t be making the playoffs this season and are done for 2014. We will cover what went right, what went wrong, and make a way too early prediction about how they will do in 2015. Thursday we will rank the four playoff teams.

10. Middlebury (5-24, 2-10)

What Went Right: Not very much. You have to hit bottom before you start going up again, and Middlebury baseball fans better hope that 2014 represents rock bottom. The only thing that really worked was Alex Kelly ’14 in the outfield and at the plate. Other positives for the Panthers to draw on were their improved pitching and defense. A young pitching staff battled all year with reliever Jake Stalcup ’17 having the best overall season. Max Araya ’16 also emerged as an above average offensive catcher who could serve as an anchor going forward, although there is some question about where he will start 2015 defensively. Middlebury struggled down the stretch winning only one of their last 13 games, but they looked better and more competitive than earlier in the year.

What Went Wrong: It might sound blunt, but there just wasn’t enough talent in Middlebury to compete. The statistics say that Middlebury had the worst hitting, fielding, and barely second worst pitching. You can’t help but sympathize for the seniors who have been there all four years and have watched as the program struggles to gain a foothold. Only one regular hit above .300 and no starter finished with an ERA under 4.50. This was simply a case of a season where nothing really went right for Middlebury. They had brief moments of competence and gave some of the top teams scares, but they weren’t good enough to get over the hump.

2015 Outlook: The key will be maintaining commitment during the offseason so that the Panthers return in 2015 ready to play. Players up and down the roster are going to have opportunities to get playing time, and it is simply a matter of who steps up when their number gets called. 2015 should be better for Middlebury, but they have a long way to go.

9. Hamilton (10-16, 2-10)

What Went Right: Hamilton and Middlebury were very similar teams this year. They both lacked depth, had pitching that held tough but couldn’t consistently get batters out, and struggled mightily fielding and hitting while sporting a fantastic leadoff hitter. For Hamilton, that was Joe Jensen ’15. He had a fantastic year with 23 stolen bases, 23 runs, and a .495 OBP. Hamilton’s best quality was their speed as they placed second in the NESCAC with 63 stolen bases. The other notable base stealers were Chris and Kenny Collins ’17. Of the two twins, Kenny finished the season especially strong with two three hit performances against Williams to help up his OBP to .422. Four of Hamilton’s top five batters in terms of plate appearances were freshmen who should see improvement in 2015.

What Went Right: The expected stars for this team were Zack Becker ’16 and Jjay Lane ’15, but both of them struggled to match their 2013 performances. Lane had an up-and-down season on the mound finishing with a 5.35 ERA. He never really found his groove and had trouble getting batters out in large part because he struck out only 3.74 batters per nine innings. Still, Becker had perhaps an even more disappointing year. Some regression was expected from his .434 OBP in 2013, but not many thought he would fall all the way to a .274 mark. By the end of the season he was a part time player because of his struggles. Overall, a very young lineup struck out this season with nobody capable of delivering the big hits that the Continentals needed.

2015 Outlook: Modest improvement should be expected from a Hamilton squad that showed potential early on. Almost everybody will be back besides a few secondary parts. If Lane gets straightened out then Hamilton will win at least four NESCAC games.

8. Trinity (16-17, 4-8)

What Went Right: Trinity showed a lot of resilience in their play down the stretch going on a nice winning streak and splitting against Wesleyan. Brian Wolfe ’15 stepped up to become the team’s best hitter over the course of the season, and his classmate Daniel Pidgeon ’15 enjoyed a successful season as well. Their pitching kept them in a lot of games, but the offense wasn’t powerful enough to take full advantage. Trinity won at least one game in every series, but they were incapable of ever going on a run in conference play to make a real move up the standings.

What Went Wrong: The schedule makers did no favors to this team with their four NESCAC series played on consecutive weekends. At one point, nine of ten games Trinity played had conference ramifications. We are used to watching powerful Trinity offenses, but those players just weren’t on the roster. The fact that they hit only two homers is telling. Trinity had almost every position player on its roster see significant playing time because nobody was playing well enough to make the coaches play them. The pitching staff was solid as mentioned above, but in college baseball you need pitchers who can singlehandedly win games for you. No one on Trinity was able to distinguish themselves as capable of that.

2015 Outlook: The East is all of a sudden very crowded, so expecting Trinity to simply return to the top is foolish. The offense will be better and the pitching potential is there, but anything better than a .500 season in the NESCAC will be a surprise for the Bantams.

7. Bowdoin (18-16-1, 5-7)

What Went Right: Young players who needed to step up did so in a big way. The most obvious of those were Peter Cimini ’16 and Chad Martin ’16. The duo went from non-factors in 2013 to the linchpins of the Bowdoin offense. Elsewhere Michael Staes ’16 emerged as a potential weekend starter for next season with a 2.29 ERA in 35.1 innings, and Jon Fraser ’15 also had a spectacular season in limited duty with a 0.76 ERA. The statistics said that Bowdoin underperformed as a team in conference. This was a team with some of the best pitching in the league, but lacked the ace that other teams had to shut down opponents. Bowdoin seemed to play every team when they were playing their best, but managed to win at least one game in every series.

What Went Wrong: Bowdoin graduated a superb class in 2013, but still had a lot of talented players in the 2014 class who were expected to lead this team. That just didn’t happen whether it was because of injury for Christian Martin ’14 or inconsistent play from John Lefeber ’14 and Duncan Taylor ’14. Lefeber and Taylor ended up with solid statistics, but they just weren’t the stars the team needed. The other big loss was not having Henry Van Zant ’15 available for most of the year. He flashed what he could do posting a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 innings. The team’s true weakness however was in the field where they had the second most errors in the NESCAC. 36.4 percent of the runs Bowdoin allowed this year were unearned.

2015 Outlook: The silver lining of a disappointing 2014 is that most of what went wrong won’t take away from the 2015 team. Van Zant should be healthy and the loss of all the seniors will not sting nearly as much as would have been believed before the season started. A return to the playoffs is definitely possible.

6. Colby (16-15, 5-7)

What Went Right: The final conference record is a disappointment, but Colby has a lot to be proud of from their 2014. We expected them to improve somewhat, but not many thought they would be on top of the East Division until April 18. The key was improvement by players already on the roster. Jason Buco ’15 delivered an MVP-quality season by leading the NESCAC with seven homers, and Kevin Galvin ’14 was a more than capable Robin to give him support. The biggest difference in 2014 though was the pitching. Scott Goldberg ’15 and Greg Ladd ’15 put in the work to become leaders of the staff while Soren Hanson ’16 showed he is also close to being an ace down the stretch. Overall the Mules improved their ERA by 1.90 runs in 2014.

What Went Wrong: Colby didn’t end up making the playoffs because the supporting cast was not strong enough to support the stars on offense. In their final six conference games Colby averaged only 1.17 runs as they went 1-5 against Bates and Tufts. Colby’s pitching was very good, but they would have needed a Herculean effort to win with that type of offense. In many ways Colby’s baseball performance mirrored that of their basketball and football teams. It was filled with promise and strong performances for most of the season (beating Bates for football and upsetting Amherst for basketball), but ended on a sour note (the Hail Mary loss to Bowdoin in football and the first round NESCAC tournament loss for basketball).

2015 Outlook: The trend is definitely in the positive direction. The only loss of real significance is Galvin. Whether other players can make similar leaps to what some did this year will make the difference in 2015. Right now I say Colby makes the playoffs next year.

5. Williams (13-16, 7-5)

What Went Right: Some people will draw issue with a team with a losing record being considered the fifth best team in the NESCAC, but we are weighting conference games heavily. Williams also split a doubleheader against Bowdoin so it’s record against NESCAC teams was 8-6. Again, detractors will point out six of those wins came against cellar dwellers Middlebury and Hamilton, but every NESCAC game is hard-fought. The best thing Williams did was beat the teams they should have in conference play. Their offense was scintillating in the early going with a host of players putting up gaudy numbers. The high point of their season came after they won their first game against Amherst in four years and stood at 4-1 in the NESCAC on April 5.

What Went Wrong: The pitching improved as the season went on, but was never reliable enough. Their teamwide statistics ended up being worse than last year underscoring the possibility they really didn’t improve at all in 2014. 2013 stats: .374 OBP and 5.73 ERA vs 2014 stats: .363 OBP and 6.46 ERA. They really struggled in non-conference play exposing the fact that they don’t have a lot of pitching depth. Williams squandered any chance at making the playoffs when they got swept by Wesleyan. The best pitching was able to make their offense struggle. Overall a very mixed year for a team that was riding high early on before reality set in a little in the middle part of the year.

2015 Outlook: Several key cogs have to be replaced as well as innings leader Steve Marino ’14, but there will still be a lot of firepower in Williamstown. However Williams probably won’t improve their conference record in 2015.

 

Stock Report May 5

The conference regular season is officially in the books now. The playoffs are set. Every team has seen their fortunes rise and fall somewhat over the course of the season. The Stock Report was meant to capture some of that in showing who was playing well and who was struggling. This will be the final one of the 2014 baseball season and feel free to look back through the other Stock Reports for a snapshot of how things looked every Monday of the season.

Stock Up

1. Connor McDavitt ’15 Centerfielder (Tufts) – Bates stole the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh and one in the eighth to walk off with the win, but Tufts held them off in game two to secure hosting rights for the NESCAC championship. McDavitt had a huge role in that game from the get-go. He singled to lead off the game before stealing second as Matt Moser ’16 struck out for the second out of the inning. A Max Freccia ’14 single brought McDavitt home for the first run of the game. In the second inning, McDavitt struck again, singling home Nick Barker ’15 to extend Tufts early lead to three runs. McDavitt finished the day with two hits in what was his fourth straight mult-hit game. He has been superb at the top of the lineup getting on base at a .467 clip. Much of that comes from his 26 walks, four more than anyone else in the NESCAC. He also has twelve stolen bases, but has only five since April 12, while been caught four times in that span. The Tufts bats will come to the forefront this weekend and will face a tough matchup with whomever Amherst throws out in the first game.

2. Jed Robinson ’16 Starting Pitcher (Trinity) – Trinity dropped off the radar pretty early on by not winning any of their conference series. They lacked the starting pitching depth or power hitting to win enough games to make some serious noise, but they played better down the stretch winning seven in a row before falling to Wesleyan in their season finale. We wrote a few weeks ago about the talent already on the Trinity roster saying “the final weeks of the season will help the coaching staff identify those potential contributors.” Robinson fits that profile perfectly. He struggled in a few early season starts and ended up not starting a game in conference play. He did get the win in Trinity’s extra inning victory over Tufts, pitching 1.1 scoreless innings. After that he re-entered the rotation, winning his final three starts. His best performance came Saturday against Wesleyan when he held the Cardinals to two runs over seven innings in Trinity’s 4-2 win. Robinson was one of several silver linings to emerge down the stretch for the Bantams as they look to quickly get back to the top of the league next season.

3. Bates (19-15, 7-5) – They didn’t quite manage to pull off the shocking feat of sweeping Tufts and stealing NESCAC hosting rights, but they came very darn close. Down 4-2 in the second game on Saturday, Bates got the first two runners on in the sixth before stranding them and then had two runners on in the seventh with one out and their two best batters coming up. Unfortunately, neither Kevin Davis ’14 or Griff Tewksbury ’14 was able to deliver a big hit, but consider how Bates started the season with six straight losses and you see how improbable the situation was. One of the major reasons for that poor performance was their awful defense which had 25 errors through seven games. In their next 27 games Bates had only 29 errors. Even given how they have been trending upward in the last few weeks, their performance against Tufts surprised a lot of people around the league. The consensus is that Tufts, Amherst, and Wesleyan have separated themselves, but Bates is closing fast on that trio heading into the playoffs.

Stock Down

1. Middlebury Hitting – Almost anyway you slice it, this was the worst hitting team in the NESCAC. Not to say that the hitting was the only reason why Middlebury struggled, because their pitching wasn’t much better, but it at least offered some decent performances. The only bright spot in the lineup was senior leadoff hitter Alex Kelly ’14. As soon as Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15 announced that they weren’t going to be playing baseball, we knew the lineup was going to struggle, but Kelly was left almost without any support. Kelly had 14 more total bases and 11 more runs than anyone else on the Panthers along with the highest batting average and slugging percentage. With Kelly graduating, players who flashed promise like Max Araya ’16 and Jason Lock ’17 will have to become much more consistent in order for Middlebury to improve.

2. Andrew Vandini ’16 Infielder (Amherst) – In the weekend preview for April 18 we highlighted Vandini as an under appreciated cog of the Amherst offense. Since then he has not had multiple hits in any of his last twelve games. In fact that very weekend he went 1-15 from the leadoff spot. That prompted him to move from first to the two hole where he continued to struggle. He has been dropped down to near the end of the lineup in what has been part of a reshuffling of the Amherst offense as a whole. His season performance is still very respectable considering he has a .412 OBP, but he is representative of a perceptible drop in Amherst’s play in the last few weekends of conference play. They played well this weekend winning all four games, but both games against Colby were close fought battles. In the second game a Connor Gunn ’16 single scored two to give Amherst the walk-off 4-3 win. Vandini and the rest of the Jeffs have to pick it up just a little bit to repeat last years run.

3. Kyle Slinger ’15 Starting Pitcher (Tufts) – Given how dominant Slinger was pitching for most of the season, it isn’t a surprise that teams have started to hit him just a little bit. It started with Bowdoin tagging him for two runs in seven innings. That might not seem like cause for concern, but it was the most anyone had hit against him in weeks. The downward trend worsened when he let up three runs and eight hits against Bates. Those aren’t bad stats, but he only lasted five innings, forcing the Tufts bullpen to throw four innings. Tom Ryan ’15 and Mike Moser ’16 weren’t up for the task as they let up the lead. It is clear that Slinger has to be better this weekend for Tufts to win it all. A great long start by him will have the domino effect of causing the rest of the pitching staff to be fully rested for just a few games.

The Weekend Preview: May 2

The playoff field is set for next weekend, but not every question has been answered. This weekend’s schedule is light on NESCAC games, with only three makeup games on the docket, so we’ll focus on the Saturday doubleheader between Bates, who is playing in its first NESCAC tournament, and Tufts which will decide where the NESCAC playoffs are to be held. Aside from that matchup, there are some interesting East vs. West games coming up this weekend that we’ll take a peek at.

Who’s Number One: #9 Tufts (27-4, 8-2) at Bates (18-14, 6-4)

The Jumbos travel to Lewiston for the completion of a series that Tufts’ took the opener of way back on the first weekend of NESCAC play, 2-0. That game was played in Medford due to weather, and Kyle Slinger ’15 struck out 11 Bobcats through seven innings before phenom Tim Superko ’17 tossed two dominant frames for his first career save.
The situation this time around is simple. If Tufts wins one game, the NESCAC tourney will be played in Medford, but if Bates can sweep the Jumbos at home then the rest of the playoff field will be heading north. And for those who are wondering, the #9 next to Tufts is their national ranking according to D3baseball. The Jumbos are the only team from the NESCAC to receive votes this week. After a terrible 1-6 Georgia trip, Bates has been coming on strong down the stretch. The team’s only back-to-back losses since the beginning of April occurred this past Tuesday and Wednesday on the road at Fisher and #5 Southern Maine.

A certain amount of strategy figures to come into effect for the first game of the doubleheader this weekend. Brad Reynolds ’14 of Bates has been an animal for the Bobcats in 2014, winning the series opener against Bowdoin, Trinity and Colby. Reynolds lost last time out against Tufts, but pitched well, allowing two runs in seven innings. Reynolds has been employed for the nine-inning series openers all season, but head coach Mike Leonard will have to treat these two games like a playoff series if he intends to play for the chance to host, as I suspect he will. It’s only the first game of the doubleheader, but Reynolds gives Bates the best chance to win, so don’t be surprised if Reynolds trots out there with the expectation of throwing a complete seven-inning game.

Superko has been the seven-inning man for Tufts, and I see no reason why Tufts should change what’s been working, unless head coach John Casey decides to hand the ball to his senior, Christian Sbily ’14, and give him the chance to win home field advantage, or opts to go with his most dominant arm and NESCAC ERA leader Slinger for the seven-inning game.Depending on who wins the first game, the second game could either mean everything or nothing at all. All hands should be on deck as long as the top seed is in the balance, so whoever doesn’t start for Tufts will likely see action out of the bullpen. What makes the Jumbos so great is that they could trot out any one of four powerful arms – Sbily, Slinger, Superko or Tom Ryan ’15 – and still be expected to win.

As for Bates, if they can steal game one, the ball ought to go to Will Levangie ’15 in the second game because he owns a 1.78 ERA. But Levangle has only gone more than five innings once this season, so the rest of the staff, including Anthony Telesca ’17 (1.69 ERA) will need to be ready to go.

In the end, Tufts is too balanced and too good to let Bates win two games in one day, so expect the road to the title to go through Medford. You can take a look at the Bates’ perspective of the coming series here.

Around the ‘CAC

Hamilton heads to Williams tonight to finish their series begun last Sunday. With the win, Williams will finish its NESCAC season with a winning record. The live stream can be found here.

After a Friday game with Lasell, Colby will take to the road for a doubleheader with Amherst on Saturday (video). Colby was knocked out of the playoffs last weekend, and would love to make a statement against one of the West representatives.

Trinity and Wesleyan are also playing a cross-divisional doubleheader on Saturday (video). It’s been a disappointing season for Trinity, but a couple wins against in-state rival Wesleyan would go a long way towards ending the year on a high note.

Middlebury will finish off its long season this weekend by hosting Bowdoin for a doubleheader on Saturday and Tufts on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how Tufts employs its staff on Sunday after Saturday’s meaningful match ups.

A few more non-conference games will be played this weekend. Hamilton travels to SUNYIT on Saturday for a doubleheader and will play host to SUNY Canton on Sunday. Springfield heads to Williams for two on Saturday, while Suffolk will visit the Ephs on Sunday. UMass-Boston will play two with Amherst on Sunday as well, and Bowdoin will head to St. Joseph’s on Sunday, a team that the Polar Bears beat 11-6 earlier this season. The biggest non-NESCAC game of the weekend comes on Sunday when #24 Eastern Connecticut heads to Middletown to play Wesleyan at 1 PM on Sunday.

Make sure to tune in for what promises to be an intense matchup in Lewiston on Saturday. The conference’s top seed hangs in the balance.