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

Fight to the Finish: Power Rankings 4/28

It's hard to believe, but with the West still up in the air, Williams, ranked seventh this week, can still make the playoffs with a sweep of the Continentals. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
It’s hard to believe, but with the West still up in the air (like this fastball), Williams, ranked eighth this week, can still make the playoffs with a sweep of the Continentals. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

It’s been about two weeks since we last released our NESCAC Baseball Power Rankings, and lots of epic wins, losses and upsets have happened since then. As teams make their final push for the playoffs, let’s take another look at how the they stack up against one another.

  1. Tufts (23-5, 8-0), Last Rankings: #3
    The Jumbos have proven that you don’t need to be the best in each area of the game to be a winning team—talent and skill can be two different things. Whereas plenty of teams in the NESCAC have talented players, Tufts has players able to utilize their talent in a way that yields success. Their team batting average isn’t great at .296, but their OBP of .427, the third best number in the league, is promising. Even their .405 slugging percentage is admirable. On the mound, Andrew David ’16 (2.22) and Speros Varinos ’18 (2.29) have tortured batters. The East may not be as competitive as the West this season, but let’s not disregard the significance of Tufts’ 8-0 conference record. No other NESCAC team comes close to that. Of course, we haven’t really seen Tufts face the scrappy West teams yet, so we will have to wait until the playoffs to see how these teams really compare.
  2. Wesleyan (18-9, 5-4), Last Rankings: #1
    I’m sure the Cardinals will be furious when they see this drop in the rankings, but you can’t drop two games to Williams (#8)—by at least three runs—and still hold the number one slot. According to statistics and overall performance, Wesleyan would actually place several spots lower in the rankings were it not for their incredible roster of batters, especially Marco Baratta ’16, Guy Davidson ’16 and Will O’Sullivan ’16. These guys bang it out when up at bat, bringing real firepower every time they’re at the plate, and hitting for power is what a team needs to get ahead in the NESCAC. On the mound, ace Nick Miceli ’17 is a phenomenal and crafty pitcher with a solid 2.63 ERA and 45 strikeouts on his resume, while the team’s most successful pitcher after him, Peter Rantz ’16, has just a slightly above-average 4.59 ERA. Having watched Wesleyan’s series against Hamilton, I can say that the Cardinals won the series because the Continentals made ghastly errors in Game 3, not necessarily because the Wesleyan team is far superior, which speaks to the NESCAC’s parity this year. Wesleyan’s deadliest weapon is unquestionably its offense, and they beat their closest competition in that category, Hamilton, last weekend. Their ability to pick up runs will allow them to get ahead, or stay relevant, in each game and compensate for other facets of the game, where they are still good, just not great. However, despite the #2 ranking here, the Cards are playing for their playoff lives this weekend. A sweep of Amherst gets them in for sure, while a 2-1 mark will have them watching the Williams series to see if the Ephs can pull off a sweep. Good for Wesleyan is that a scenario where the Cards, Ephs and the Middlebury Panthers all end 6-6 will put Wesleyan into the postseason because of overall winning percentage.
  3. Amherst (20-8, 6-3), Last Rankings: #2
    Wesleyan and Amherst are pretty interchangeable right now, but the Cardinals’ production at the plate gives them the boost. That being said, the Jeffs are by no means a team to take lightly, and they have a superior rotation to the Cardinals: their record currently leads the West, and their ace Jackson Volle ’17 (1.10 ERA) earned not one but two conference nods for the Pitcher of the Week position. Dave Cunningham ’16 also received attention this week from the conference for his batting and fielding, boasting a .500 average and an error-free performance in the field. Perhaps Amherst’s one weakness is that the team is good in all areas but not exceptionally great in any one of them. Regardless, Wesleyan and Amherst face each other this weekend, and the series will undoubtedly be neck-and-neck in each game. 
  4. Trinity (14-14, 7-5), Last Rankings: #6
    The Bantams have had killer series since we last looked at the team rankings. They have gotten back-to-back series wins over Bowdoin (#7) and Colby (#9)—which at the end of the day wasn’t a real struggle—and swept Bates (#10) last weekend, ensuring their spot in the playoffs. Trinity was swept by Tufts, but at the rate the Jumbos have picked themselves up this season, that’s not surprising. The pitching rotation also lacks depth, relying mainly on Anthony Egeln, Jr. (2.44 ERA) for high performance on the mound, but right now that hasn’t been a cause for too much concern. Trinity falls dead center in every area of the game, according to NESCAC standings, so I’m happy with Trinity’s ability to shut down every team in the East except Tufts. Right now Trinity is 7-5 in the conference, and Bowdoin and Colby are next at 3-6. That says a lot about the landscape in the East. The Bantams are also back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, displacing Bates, who has gone the last two seasons.
  5. Hamilton (14-12, 3-6), Last Rankings: #4
    The Continentals currently have the worst record in the West, so why are they still stacked relatively high up in the rankings? I swear I’m not being biased in saying that Hamilton possesses extremely talented players with lots of potential, especially when it comes to performance at the plate. Their slash line of .343/.432/.481 put them second in the conference for hitting, and juniors Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Kenny Collins ’17 and Brett Mele ’17 would be hitting on any team in the league. Yet, dropping two games a piece to Middlebury and Wesleyan proves a fact that cannot be ignored: Hamilton is consistently unreliable in the field, dropping balls and making terrible throws that add up to inexcusable big innings. Accordingly, they have the worst FPCT in the league at .926 with 588 putouts and a whopping 68 errors. Against the Panthers, Hamilton had eight errors in Game 1, three in Game 2, and two in Game 3. Thankfully, the Continentals improved throughout the weekend, but that’s 13 errors in one weekend—Middlebury had only two. Then last weekend against the Cardinals, Hamilton had 10 errors in total, seven of which contributed (or directly led to) their 15-6 loss in Game 3. Wesleyan, in comparison, had three errors.Compounding the problem is a shallow bullpen that doesn’t rack up a lot of strikeouts. Balls in play plus shaky defense equals unearned runs. The Continentals have a ton to offer, but they’ll never be truly great unless they clean up on defense.
  6. Middlebury (9-16, 6-6), Last Rankings: #7
    Week after week, the Panthers are improving rather than shrinking back into the losing team the West has grown accustomed to. They stand right in the middle of all NESCAC team stats when they used to come dead last, or close to it, in previous seasons. We’ve already said that the older players, especially seniors John Luke ’16 and Joe MacDonald ’16, have clearly developed during the off-season and that fresh rookies like Colby Morris ’19 have added more depth to the team, but it’s likely that watching their program progress into a winning program has motivated the players to put in that extra push of effort, producing even more wins. Should Wesleyan fail to win their series against Amherst, the Panthers could potentially knock them out of that second-place slot guaranteeing a run in the NESCAC playoffs. As an eternal lover of the underdog, I’m honestly excited just thinking about it.
  7. Bowdoin (19-10, 3-6), Last Rankings: #8 
    Honestly, Bowdoin has moved up in rankings because other teams needed to go down in them. That’s probably something to be thankful for, based on the number of rookies the Polar Bears have on the roster. Bowdoin has already been eliminated from the playoffs, but their matchup with Tufts this weekend provides an opportunity to make a statement. It sounds cliche to say Bowdoin is a young team right now and coming out low in rankings is just a part of their growing phase, but, to an extent, it’s sort of the only way you can look at the team right now. No Bowdoin player has made it into the top-50 in batting average, and the team’s batting average of .265 is scary. However, I really like Bowdoin’s ERA of 3.80. That shows some potential, or at least a good starting point, for next season. At this point, Bowdoin needs to think about the future rather than salvaging the rest of their now stagnant season. 
  8. Williams (10-17, 4-5), Last Rankings: #9
    The Ephs managed to win two games in their series against Wesleyan, which definitely must be acknowledged in some way. I’m pretty dumbfounded by the stats of the games, but nevertheless, those two pretty wins pushed the Ephs ahead of Hamilton in the West’s standings, making this certainly an odd year for the division. Still, statistically Williams hasn’t stacked up well this year. The Ephs have an ERA of 6.94 and have allowed 120 walks, both league worsts. They have a FPCT of .945, which ranks seventh in the league. They swing it at a solid .299/.391/.376 clip, but overall, the team is not up to the caliber of the rest of the division. But, baseball is a crazy game, and a sweep for the Ephs this weekend puts them in the mix for the playoffs.
  9. Colby (10-18, 2-6), Last Rankings: #10
    At least the Mules are consistent, right? Colby has a handful of extremely talented players like Soren Hanson ’16 and Tommy Forese ’16, but there’s only so much you can expect them to do for a continually struggling team. Bates’ miserable losses to Trinity pushed Colby ahead of the Bobcats in the East, but the Mules have zero chances of getting to the playoffs anytime in the near future. They remain too far down the standings in all categories to show tremendous growth—they are seventh in average and ninth in ERA and FPCT—and with their two most talented players graduating, it’s likely next year will be a struggle for the Mules. Hopefully Colby really invests in the youth in the offseason in order to get a head start on next year’s season, when there will be really, really big shoes to fill.
  10. Bates (10-16, 2-6), Last Rankings: #5
    In just two weeks, the Bobcats have severely dropped in our power rankings. They started off the season quite well: they won their doubleheader against Bowdoin; Connor Speed ’18 was awarded NESCAC Pitcher of the Week. Everything just fall apart afterwards. Trinity dominated their series, winning all three of the weekend’s games. In all fairness, two games had a one run differential, and one game went into extra innings, so Bates wasn’t entirely out of control there. However, those three losses were the straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case, the Bobcats’ back. Bates is now last in the East after losing six conference games. The team’s pitching is the best thing it has going right now, as Bates has an ERA of 4.42 thanks to guys like Speed. Thankfully, there’s plenty of time for the youth on the team to develop the program, but this year’s essentially over for the team as a whole.

Conference games this weekend will make or break teams’ chances of playing in the NESCAC playoffs this year. Here are this week’s match ups:

Colby vs. Bates—Friday at 3:00 pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Tufts vs Bowdoin—Friday at 3:0o pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Tufts vs BatesSunday at 1:00 pm
Wesleyan vs Amherst—Friday at 4:00 pm; Saturday at 1:00 pm, 3:30 pm
Hamilton vs Williams—Friday at 4:00 pm; Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm
Trinity vs. Middlebury—Saturday at noon, 2:30 pm (non-divisional)

Separation Time: Weekend Preview 4/15

Jason Lock '17 and the Middlebury lineup looks to continue their surprise start. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Jason Lock ’17 and the Middlebury lineup looks to continue their surprise start. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

After two weeks of Mother Nature really just hating on NESCAC baseball, the forecast for the weekend all over the ‘Cac looks beautiful and is finally doing its part to make baseball fun again. (Knock on wood, please.)

As Adam Lamont’s latest power rankings suggest, the season so far has been filled with people getting hit by pitches (I felt your pain, Panthers—I’m sure pitches from Wesleyan’s Peter Rantz ’16 leave a bruise), some impressive upsets—Hamilton vs Amherst, Middlebury vs Wesleyan—and old powerhouse Trinity potentially crawling their way back into proper form. And then there’s Bowdoin, back near the bottom of the conference. Sorry, Polar Bears, there really is no such thing as luck in the NESCAC.

This weekend, the conference continues on its way with each team having a few more games under their belts:

NESCAC Series:
Trinity vs Tufts—Friday 3 pm; Saturday 12 pm, 2:30 pm
Bowdoin vs Colby—Friday 3 pm; Saturday 12 pm, 2:30 pm
Middlebury vs Hamilton—Friday 4 pm; Saturday 12 pm, 2:30 pm
Williams vs Wesleyan—Friday 4 pm; Saturday 1 pm, 3:30 pm

It’s difficult to pick a specific must-watch game out of this bunch—though the Williams vs Wesleyan face off is certainly the most mismatched of the group in terms of rankings, the remaining trio of games can go either way. The way this season has been going so far, it’s unlikely we will be seeing multiple sweeps this weekend.

Players to Watch

1. P Colby Morris ’19 (Middlebury)
So you know that Middlebury upset of Wesleyan? Colby Morris ’19 was on the mound for that. The rookie earned an incredible—jaw-dropping, actually—win against the reigning NESCAC champs, allowing just three runs over 6.1 innings of work with three strikeouts. Now, Wesleyan has the best team batting average at .370, so the fact that Morris (4.91 ERA) took them down is a serious show of the young arm’s potential for the Panthers. Over the next four years, he’s going to be the threat of the NESCAC.

Morris will start off Middlebury’s series against Hamilton this weekend. Hamilton has the second highest team batting average (.343) and will no doubt go full force against the Panthers to guarantee a first-game victory. If Morris builds off of last weekend’s momentum, he’ll have no problem taking control.

2. C Brett Mele ’17 (Hamilton)
Maybe I’m just standing on a soapbox, but Mele’s stats are absolutely phenomenal this year compared to his first two seasons, and he hasn’t really been given much NESCAC recognition for it. At the plate, the junior holds an awesome .442/.524/.577 slash line that places him in second, fourth, and seventh in the conference, respectively. That power is impressive. Very impressive. Clearly, Mele was playing below expectations in his first two years, but these stats convey some above and beyond effort.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that he was selected for the NESCAC All-Academic team last year. But maybe the conference can somehow highlight something else he does well this year, too.

The Run-Down

I’ll keep it short and sweet this week, as there are a lot of games to tune into in the next few days. Here’s what you need to know:

Trinity vs. Tufts
Starting Pitchers: Jed Robinson ’16, Anthony Egeln ’18, Chris Speer (Trinity); Tim Superko ’17, Speros Varinos ’18, Andrew David ’16 (Tufts)

Tufts may be holding strong, but they know that one game can change everything. That being said, the Jumbos are preparing to face Trinity full force. “Trinity is obviously playing really well. They’re a solid team,” head coach John Casey said. “They play really well defensively. We have to keep them off the bases.”

Tufts’ men on the mound will likely make the difference in the Tufts vs Trinity series—Andrew David ’16, especially, will be a battle for Trinity’s batters. David flaunts a 1.42 ERA, the second in the NESCAC; meanwhile Anthony Egeln, Jr., the Bantam’s highest-ranked pitcher, comes in at 2.93. However, Egeln has not allowed a run in his last 14 innings pitched.

The competition in the other area is evidently much closer: the teams are neck-and-neck, with Tufts and .279 and Trinity and .277 for batting and .964 and .962 for fielding. Tufts’ Harry Brown ’17 has been undeniably the most superior batter in the mix, but afterward the stats pretty much blend together. It’s likely we will be seeing some big hits from both sides this weekend unless one team’s defense really plays way above expectations

Nevertheless, Tufts is fundamentally the stronger team, as they are tried and proven. Trinity has the potential to really move up a notch in the rankings this season, but the Bantams currently lack the cohesive firepower of the Jumbos.

Prediction: Tufts wins 2

Bowdoin vs Colby
Starting Pitchers: Harry Ridge ’16, Brandon Lopez ’19, Ben Osterholtz ’19 (Bowdoin); Soren Hanson ’16, Tommy Forese ’16, Brooks Parker ’19 (Colby)

It’s Maine vs Maine this weekend in the NESCAC, and unfortunately, that means one struggling team vs another struggling team. Bowdoin started off the season strong, but proved unable to hold onto that pride and glory once the regular NESCAC season began. Harry Ridge ’16 and Soren Hanson ’16 will make interesting opponents, with commendable ERAs of 1.69 and 2.49. However, Bowdoin’s depth is much more reliable than Colby’s, and you can’t rely on just one pitcher in a three-game series. Colby’s Andrew Currier has dominated at the plate this season for the Mules, racking up nice stats of .377/.417/.434. Sean Mullaney has also made a difference on the Polar Bears, trailing behind Currier with .324/.400/.368.

At the end of the day, this will probably be the most evenly matched series of the weekend, with neither team able to move up in the rankings and really give a blowout performance.

Prediction: Bowdoin wins 2

Middlebury vs Hamilton
Starting Pitchers: Colby Morris ’19, John Bunting, Joe MacDonald ’16 (Middlebury); Cole Dreyfuss ’16, Spencer Vogelbach ’18, Dan DePaoli ’18 (Hamilton)

Both Middlebury and Hamilton stunned the NESCAC with tremendous upsets in the last two weeks, causing their peer teams to think, “Wow, they really have gotten better!” And, in case you missed all of the season so far, they have. Hamilton’s core squad of juniors (Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Brett Mele ’17, Kenny Collins ’17 and Andrew Haser ’17) is pretty terrifying for fielders; they all stack up extremely highly in NESCAC standings. It’ll probably get even more intimidating once Chris Collins ’17 is 100 percent recovered from his spring break hamstring injury. Hamilton’s pitching rotation is also quite impressive, with Cole Dreyfuss ’16, Spencer Vogelbach ’18, Dan DePaoli ’18 and Max Jones ’19 finding more consistency as the weeks progress.

The rise of the Panthers, meanwhile, is probably the most shocking story in the NESCAC so far. After failing to really produce wins for the past few years, Middlebury got that huge win over Wesleyan last weekend 7-4. The Panthers are experiencing a youth movement that is unquestionably resulting in the team’s success: pitcher Colby Morris ’19, as already expressed, is pitching well on the bump, while Sam Graf ’19, Spencer Tonies ’19 and Phil Bernstein ’19 have been standouts in the field. And then there is Jake Turtel ’18, who currently holds the starting 2B position after not playing much at all last season as well and is hitting .333/.387/.386 at bat.

Hamilton needs to sweep this series if they want to make a major dent in the standings and increase their chances at making this year’s NESCAC playoffs. To do that, winning Game 1 is key. Vogelbach and Morris will duel it out on the mound with a shared goal of getting that first win. After that, one thing is certain: the Continentals are going to put their blood, sweat and tears into this one.

Prediction: Hamilton wins 2

Williams vs Wesleyan
Starting Pitchers: Luke Rodino ’17, Tyler Duff ’17, TBA (Williams); Peter Rantz ’16, Nick Miceli ’17, Ethan Rode ’17 (Wesleyan)

If there’s a sweep this weekend, you can guarantee it’ll happen here. The Ephs definitely have a young team this year, and that means inexperience. All things considered, Williams isn’t too shabby at the plate, averaging .310. Sure, Wesleyan boasts a .370 average, but still, it’s actually quite impressive. Pitching, however, is a completely different story. While Wesleyan has produced a slightly disappointed 4.77 ERA, Williams falls dead last in the NESCAC with a lousy 8.49. Is this better than the two-digit figures we saw during spring break? Yes. Is this going to win many NESCAC contests? No.

If Williams doesn’t improve on the bump, there is next to no chance they will be a legitimate contender against the Cardinals this weekend. Sorry, Ephs, but this one’s not happening for you yet.

Prediction; Wesleyan wins 3

Things Change, but People Stay the Same: Power Rankings 4/13

Get on your horse, Brandon Lopez! (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Get on your horse, Brandon Lopez! (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

After a little bit of a break from Power Rankings while we waited for things to sort themselves out so we’d look less stupid, the most powerful of NESCAC Power Rankings are back. We haven’t had a rankings since the NESCAC conference season began, so now is a good chance to reorder the teams as the next few weekends are the meat of the NESCAC schedule.

1. Wesleyan (15-4, 2-1), Last Rankings: #2

Kaitlin McCabe ranked Wesleyan second last time, and you might be questioning whether the Cardinals have done enough to make them worthy of moving up. Well, know that it’s close between the top teams. I put Wesleyan tops because I think they have the highest ceiling, even with everything they lost last year. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games, and after dropping their conference opener to Middlebury, they responded with two convincing wins in the doubleheader Saturday. Nick Miceli ’17 got his league-leading fifth win this weekend, and he has a miniscule 1.49 ERA to boot. For a guy that pitched just 13 innings last year, those are some real solid numbers. Wesleyan is not as good as a year ago, but they have done a sensational job to this point and seem to be getting better each week.

2. Amherst (14-4, 4-2), Last Rankings: #1

I drop Amherst a spot because of their inability to sweep Hamilton or Williams in their first two weekend series. They haven’t lost a combined two games to those two teams in a season since 2010. I now am not 100 percent confident that they make the playoffs because Wesleyan still looms on the schedule. If Amherst gets swept in that series, the potential is there for someone (dare we say Middlebury!) to steal that second spot. Offensively Amherst is their typical selves, being among the best in the league at both hitting for power and stealing bases. The defense has been really bad in their conference games though with a fielding percentage of .911. It hasn’t really cost them big yet, but it makes me nervous.

3. Tufts (12-4, 2-0), Last Rankings: #4

The Jumbos haven’t done that much to move a spot, but Bowdoin has fallen off in conference so Tufts is the clear choice here. I don’t want to disparage Tufts; they were on a eight-game winning streak after all until losing to Roger Williams last night. Their team batting average is a really bad .282, but that is all part of their team philosophy. Their OBP is a more robust .418, the third best number in the league. Andrew David ’16 has proven beyond a doubt that he is a top of the line ace, and Speros Varinos ’18 isn’t far behind. The jury is still out on R.J Hall ’19, owner of a 1.09 ERA, and Tim Superko ’17 had his best start of the season last week. The rotation is not as deep as it has been in years past, and that leaves them somewhat vulnerable.

4. Hamilton (11-7, 1-2), Last Rankings: 5

I know I mentioned Middlebury when talking about Amherst’s potential to miss the playoffs, but Hamilton to me is the third-best team in the West right now. The problem for them is that they already lost two of three to Amherst, and the final game of that series was a heartbreaking loss in extra innings. That lineup really is not a joke. Five of their every game starters have an OBP better than .400, and guys like Brett Mele ’17 and Kenny Collins ’17 are still getting on-base at a rate better than 50 percent. The Continentals can get back on track for making an upset run if they sweep the Panthers. Anything less than that and they will need a lot of things to go right for them to have a good chance.

5. Bates (9-12, 2-3), Last Rankings: #7

I put Bates here above Trinity because I have more respect for the Bobcats track record over the past few years. I also have to give credit for them sweeping the doubleheader against Bowdoin on Saturday after the Bobcats came completely unraveled in a 13-1 loss on Friday. Connor Speed ’18 took home NESCAC Pitcher of the Week honors because of his six shutout innings as Bowdoin could not figure out the funky motion of the right-hander. There is no doubt that Bates got lucky in the second game of the doubleheader when Bowdoin had five errors that led to all nine runs being unearned in the 9-5 game. Their series against Trinity next weekend looms large.

6. Trinity (9-11, 4-2), Last Rankings: #6

Trinity, long a NESCAC powerhouse, is back, baby! No, the Bantams, a team that used to strike fear into teams because of their slugging ability, is certainly not anywhere close to the team they were years ago. They have gotten back-to-back series wins over Bowdoin and Colby to put themselves in position to make the playoffs, but they have to prove they can beat Bates or Tufts before I have full faith in them. I loved how Trinity looked in the first game on Saturday as Anthony Egeln ’18 went all seven innings and a Scott Cullinane ’16 hit a three run homer in the first that gave them a commanding lead early. That lineup can still be shut down by really good pitching, though.

7. Middlebury (6-11, 3-3), Last Week: #8

When do we start to believe in the Panthers? Not quite yet, especially because they are in the West and not the East division. That win over Wesleyan which I sort of glossed over when talking about the Cardinals was an impressive one. Middlebury played Wesleyan close in some games last year so it isn’t a total surprise. Wesleyan didn’t play terribly; the Panthers simply came ready to play. They did get some lucky breaks, though. At one point an errant back pick attempt careened off the noggin of 2B Jake Turtel ’18 and went out of play, immediately allowing two runs to score, and Turtel later scored on a bloopy double. Friend of the program Colby Morris ’19 pitched great to get the win, and the offense put up two different crooked numbers against Ethan Rode ’17. The Panthers need to win just one more conference game to match their wins in ALL games a season ago.

8. Bowdoin (12-8, 2-4), Last Week: #3

No team has seen their fortunes fall more than Bowdoin’s in the past two weeks as the Polar Bears have not kept up their strong play. We warned about that possibility given how much youth they have. Ben Osterholtz ’19, who had been sensational in his first few starts, finally got roughed up against Bates. The real problem, though, is the lineup is hitting worse and worse. Nobody on the team ranks in the top-25 for either BA or OBP, and as a group they are hitting below the Mendoza line in conference games. That production is not going to be enough for Bowdoin to make a late push to make the playoffs.

9. Williams (6-13, 2-4), Last Ranking: #10

The Ephs kept their slim playoff hopes alive by taking the last game of their series against Amherst because of two runs in the 9th inning. The Amherst starting pitchers shut down Williams in every game, and when their offense struggles, things are extremely difficult for them. Their run differential is much better than that of a 6-13 team, but those types of things are only so helpful at this point in the year. One does have to keep in mind that this is a relatively young team with the every pitcher of importance slated to return next season. Things are frustrating right now for Ephs fans, considering the strength of so many other programs at Williams, but they should be better soon.

10. Colby (5-13, 1-2), Last Ranking: #9

It is impressive that every team in the NESCAC already has a win in conference even though many teams have only played one series. The Mules actually missed a golden opportunity to win the series against Trinity. Tom Forese ’16 outdueled Jed Robinson ’16 in the first game of the series, but ace Soren Hanson ’16 got knocked around in the first game of the doubleheader in what was their best chance to win. If Forese can pitch that well in other weekends then the Mules have the makings of a very dangerous team. I still don’t think they have enough talent on the roster to make any serious noise, but you certainly can’t sleep on them in any given game.

Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears: Stock Report 3/22

Sean Mullaney '17 and the Polar Bears are the big early season surprise. Bowdoin is 7-0. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Sean Mullaney ’17 and the Polar Bears are the big early season surprise. Bowdoin is 7-0. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

While you’ve been at home crying over your destroyed March Madness brackets, NESCAC baseball teams have swarmed to warmer climates to start their seasons. Players have already been hard at work with practices and games for weeks – and a month, if you’re Bates -, but it’s these crucial games during break in which coaches and teams determine starting lineups for many home openers set for this coming weekend. Teams may just be trying to find the right lineups, but the stats and results can’t hide from the official record.

While the makeup of Wesleyan’s roster may be different than in previous seasons, its potential for success has hardly diminished. Nevertheless, the Cardinals continue to excel thanks to veteran players like OF Jordan Farber ’16, P Peter Rantz ’16, P/C/2B Nick Miceli ’17, and SS Guy Davidson ’16. Davidson’s spring break run has clinched his position as one of the best hitters in the NESCAC: during the two-week period, he hit .444/.500/.685 as he went 24-for-54, driving in 19 runs and scoring 16 times.

Like the Cardinals, Amherst has continued to dominate the diamond, despite also losing the team’s star, current-MLB player Mike Odenwaelder ’16. Yet, Amherst is currently boasting an 8-1 record and shows no signs of slowing down going forward into the season, especially with the starting outfield of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 hitting an outrageous .371 through nine games. Kenney himself has gone 16-for-35 and currently leads the team in batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.500), and slugging percentage (.657). Pitcher Jackson Volle ’17, who on Monday was named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, opened the season strong, claiming two wins in his first two starts to help Amherst secure their exceptional 8-1 overall record. Volle wrapped up spring break with a tidy 0.64 ERA.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in the early going has been Bowdoin’s brilliant winning streak. They’ve opened the season 7-0 on the strength of some great pitching to the tune of a 2.68 team ERA through the first five games (yesterday’s stats vs. Greenville were not available at the time of this posting).

Now for the first stock report of the what is going to be a very interesting season.

Stock Up

  1. P/C Nick Miceli ’17 (Wesleyan)

Throughout the Cardinals’ first 12 games, Miceli has proven that on the field, he’s a man for all seasons: already he’s stood out in the conference for stellar pitching, hitting and fielding. He’s the ultimate NESCAC Triple Threat.

The junior, having already thrown in five games, is ranked in second in the conference with a 16.2 IP, 8.54 K/G and ERA of 2.16. Miceli’s strength on the mound was clear in Wesleyan’s second game against Bethany Lutheran College on March 7. Bethany Lutheran scored six runs in the first two innings, thanks in large part to some shoddy defense, giving them a generous 6-2 lead heading into the third. The two teams were almost even in hits, with Bethany Lutheran only outhitting Wesleyan by one. During innings 3-6 Miceli was nearly untouchable, allowing four hits but no runs with no walks and five strikeouts. He then impressed in relief on March 11 against Marian University, allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts in five innings. But that’s not all: Miceli boasts a .474/.500/.632 line in 38 at bats while seeing time mostly at second but also catcher and DH.

In short, Miceli is good. Really good.

  1. Fresh Pitching Faces

Around the NESCAC plenty of youngsters have shown some great potential on the mound in the early going.

After graduating Elias and Cooney and losing Pittore, Wesleyan hasn’t missed a beat on the mound. Miceli has looked good throwing the ball, and Peter Rantz has picked right back up where he left off, but Mike McCaffrey ’19 has shown some potential, too. His first outing was disastrous, to say the least, but so was everything else for the Cardinals in their season-opening 29-14 rout at the hands of Hamline. McCaffrey improved in his second outing, and then shined in his third appearance, a complete game victory over Carleton when he allowed four hits and one walk while striking out 10.

Hamilton’s Spencer Vogelbach ’18 first made a name for himself as a first-year at the beginning of last season. In the Continental’s spring break game against Alfred State, his 11 strikeouts were the most by a Hamilton baseball pitcher in a single game in five years — an accomplishment that should not and cannot be ignored. Vogelbach pitched in three of Hamilton’s seven wins last week, striking out 11 batters and racking up a 14.0 IP with just one walk. The rookie was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA and a 4-1 record last season. Clearly, his rookie season was just a preview of what is to come for Hamilton’s pitching rotation. Dan DePaoli ’18 has also impressed on the bump; he went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts that covered 11 innings. In Hamilton’s 7-1 win at Bard on March 12, DePaoli only allowed one unearned run on two hits in six innings of work. Then, in Friday’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence, he gave up three runs on four hits, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter in five innings. He also handled four chances in the field without an error.

Two freshmen started on the bump for Middlebury in their season-opening doubleheader against Bates. Colby Morris ’19 spun a complete game gem but was let down by his offense in a 2-1 loss. In the second of the twinbill, Jack Bunting ’19 was dominant through three innings before a pair of mistakes resulted in a three-run inning and one long left center field homer that was aided by a windy day that saw three balls leave the yard. Bunting finished with 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 K and 1 BB. In relief three members of the formerly beleaguered Middlebury staff, including newbie Conor Himstead ’19, combined for five scoreless innings.

  1. Walk Off Victories

It’s hard to tell what the Continentals love more: actually winning with a walk off or showing off the swagger of the moment on social media (as a loyal Continental, I’m personally a fan of both, but I confess I’m biased).

On March 14, the walk-off homerun of OF Kenny Collins ’17 won Hamilton’s first game against Minnesota-Morris by a narrow margin, 3-2. You have to love Collins’ elaborate helmet toss, shown towards the end of the video shared on Hamilton Baseball’s Twitter. I’m pretty sure hurling your helmet into the air is frowned upon by NCAA regulations, but in this situation, how could you not?

Andrew Haser ’17, the NESCAC Player of the Week, built off of Collins’ momentum ending Hamilton’s first game against Allegheny. With bases loaded in the seventh inning, Haser laced a homerun that freed the Continentals from a tied score (and this comes just two days after his grand slam contributed to Hamilton’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence). Haser currently leads the Continentals with 10 runs, seven extra-base hits, 13 RBIs, five doubles and a .706 slugging percentage. The junior is hitting .382 (13-for-34) and has only made one error in 54 chances at shortstop.

The Continentals cheered that they couldn’t believe they managed to escape defeat twice this early into the season? Neither could we.

It’s not just Hamilton walking off in style these days, though. In the second game of the doubleheader between Middlebury and Bates on Saturday, both teams threatened to score in extras of the originally seven-inning ball game. It was all ended with one swing though, when rightfielder Sam Graf ’19 notched his first career hit by smacking a long no-doubter to left field. The Panthers did a solid job of celebrating in their own right.

  1. Bowdoin: 7-0

Starting pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 was unquestionably Bowdoin’s pride and glory last season, tying the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games. The stats don’t lie: he was the primary reason Bowdoin kept swimming throughout the season, even if he alone couldn’t launch the Polar Bears into the playoffs. Without him, Bowdoin has to redesign its entire pitching structure, to find a way to be victorious without their star.

In spite of pre-season doubts, Bowdoin really has come out on top, winning all seven of their games so far. And it’s worth noting that only two wins were by a narrow margin — in five of the Polar Bears’ wins to date, they have defeated their opponents by five or more runs.

Seniors Harry Ridge ’16 and Michael Staes ’16 impressed on the mound in Bowdoin’s sweep of Utica on March 15, pitching 5.2 and 7.0 innings, respectively. Ridge earned Bowdoin’s win on the mound while allowing just six hits and two earned runs. He struck out eight with only one walk. Staes turned in a complete seven inning performance in game two, allowing nine hits and only one run to earn the win. He struck out four Pioneers with no walks. Rookie Brandon Lopez ’19 earned his first collegiate win on the mound on March 17 against Dickinson, going six innings and allowing four hits and as many runs. Lopez struck out six and walked a pair.

Offensively, Chad Martin ’16 is clearly building upon his past success at bat. His .311 AVG last season placed him in the middle of NESCAC ranks, but he shows potential to outperform himself in the games ahead. Peter Cimini ’16 added ferocity to the Polar Bears’ deep offense, batting .400 with a .733 slugging percentage through the first five contests, collecting three extra base hits and six RBIs.

Stock Down

  1. Tufts’ 3B Tommy O’Hara ’18

Last spring training, rookie O’Hara was the wiz kid on the Jumbos, developing a .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks during spring break. Throughout the season, the freshman infielder led the team’s offense with a .405 ABG, .518 OBP and .603 SLG. And let’s not forget that he also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.

The Jumbos may have seen only five games at this point, but their 2-3 record and poor showing at the plate are cause for concern. In his first 16 at bats, O’Hara has amassed a .188/.435/.188 line. That OBP is nice, and is carried by six walks, but he also has seven strikeouts already. O’Hara struck out 25 times all of last season for a 14.9% K rate. Right now he’s walking back to the dugout 30.4% of the time. It’s very early, still, but let’s hope the sophomore isn’t putting too much pressure on himself.

2. Trinity Pitching 

The Bantams are 4-6 to open the year, but it’s pretty obvious that the biggest hurdle they will have to climb this season is replacing SP Sean Meekins ’15, he of the 2.01 ERA a year ago. The experienced and usually reliable Jed Robinson ’16 has gotten knocked around in two starts to the tune of a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with two starts already – Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – have ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and a ghastly 10.38. The bright spot for the rotation so far has been newbie Erik Mohl ’19, who shut down Plattsburgh St. in his one start, throwing six scoreless innings, but his 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP does not bode well for the future.

Speaking of Plattsburgh St., the 37 runs that Trinity posted on the Cardinals during their doubleheader last week may be bolstering the team’s .314/.410/.433 slash line, but I’d bet more heavily on the Bantams’ offense than pitching staff right now.

 

3. Live Stats

I have many bones to pick with the stability of live stats programs this week. It’s hard enough trying to follow a baseball game using play-by-play stats rather than a video stream. A live stats program that continues that constantly lags or repeatedly—or permanently—freezes is just torture.

Over the years, I have accumulated quite a list of grievances about these streams, and the Hamilton vs. Fredonia stats stream probably embodied them all. In the first game, the program showed the stats of Fredonia’s previous game for the first two innings; when it finally switched to the Hamilton game, it never changed the lineup and eventually froze in the bottom of the third inning. It never adjusted for the second game.

Perhaps this was the most extreme of cases, but so far, none of my experiences with live stats during spring training have been positive. Help a fan out, NESCAC! Get it together. I hope, and expect, that the ability to follow along with NESCAC games will improve once all teams return up north, as is usually the case.

4. Editors

On Thursday, March 17, Trinity lost to Rutgers-Camden 9-4 in Auburndale, FL. According to Trinity’s website, however, the team actually played against Rugers-Camden. Now, as a New Jersey native, I was extremely skeptical that “Rugers-Camden” actually existed—I even looked up “Rugers” just to confirm that it’s not a slang way of referring to Rutgers University that I’ve never heard of. But no, Trinity corrected itself in the line below the flawed headline, accurately spelling out “Rutgers-Camden.”

Yet, Rugers appeared again. And then again. And then the website switched back to Rutgers. Then back to Rugers.

I can’t condemn an occasional typo (we’ve all been there), but having exorbitant inconsistencies regarding a nationally known institution on an official college website is inexcusable. Note that the errors still remain throughout the game recap.

The Bantams may have won the game, but the college itself lost in quality coverage. Shame on you, Trinity!

I thought that was all, but then this little nugget was brought to our attention. As noted above, Middlebury walked off on Bates 4-3 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, March 21. According to the NESCAC Weekly Release, however, “Bates def. Middlebury, 4-3”. They have the records right in the Team Standings category, but we couldn’t help backing the Panthers on this one.