In years past, the NESCAC West Division has been lacking in any meaningful regular season drama outside of seeing whether Amherst or Wesleyan would finish first. The East has been the site of all the action with teams jumping in and out of the top two. Those roles were reversed this year with the East playing out their games without much consequence and the West up in the air until the bitter end.
In the end, though, Wesleyan and Amherst sit at the top yet again. However, they do so with identical 7-5 conference records. That’s a far cry from two teams that went a combined 58-14 over the past three years. The two played each other this weekend, and Wesleyan came into the weekend looking like they were the team in danger of missing the playoffs with a 5-4 record. Then, on Friday Wesleyan won over Amherst and beat Williams beat Hamilton. Entering Saturday the West standings looked like this:
A Saturday sweep by Williams of Hamilton combined with either Amherst or Wesleyan sweeping the other doubleheader would have resulted in the Ephs making the playoffs. Heck, even if Williams split they could have snuck in with an Amherst sweep because the Ephs beat the Cardinals twice. A three-way tie scenario still would have favored the eventual playoff teams, but the point is that even though Wesleyan and Amherst made it back to the playoffs, things were close to going very differently.
Of course, they didn’t go differently. And I feel confident that the Cardinals and Amherst really are the two best teams in the West Division, though the gap has shrunk. They have much better overall records and are still more talented. But the divisional race was awesome to watch unfold in such a tight way. The playoffs don’t start for another 10 days, but we still have a lot of regular season baseball to enjoy before then.
Starting Pitcher Peter Rantz ’16 (Wesleyan)
Rantz clinched the Cardinals’ place in the playoffs by going all eight innings in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. The ace had struggled his past two weekend starts, losing both games and throwing up a 6.35 ERA in them. Things looked bad as he allowed three runs in the bottom of the first. From there, he turned things on and scattered six hits over the next 7.0 innings without too many problem spots. Holding Amherst scoreless for seven innings is some pretty nifty stuff for the senior, and it is the type of resilient performance we have grown to expect from Wesleyan.
It’s a cliché at this point (see my last sentence about Rantz), but the Cardinals really do seem to have some sort of secret sauce or something for making things happen. They won the series opener for the first time this weekend by hitting four home runs. Then they rallied from that three run deficit to win in extra innings in the second game. That was their second extra inning win in a NESCAC game this year, and they have trailed late in a few of their wins. Marco Baratta ’16 has not slowed down from his scorching start, taking home NESCAC POTW honors and having a OBP of .538. Other big performances included that of first baseman Jordan Farber ’16, who hit four homers in conference and shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 who has been great at the plate again this year. The Cardinals ended up winning the West for the fourth straight year. Now that they are in, the two-time defending champions are the team that no one wants to play.
Centerfielder Cody McCallum ’16 (Tufts)
The senior has carried on the strong tradition of Tufts outfielders with a first name starting with C and a last name starting with Mc, which began with Connor McDavitt ’15. Seriously though, McCallum has been huge for the Jumbos this year, and he was great this weekend. He batted .400 in their four NESCAC games (the Jumbos had to makeup a game against Bates). He also had one RBI in each of them. He leads the league in walks with 25, making him the perfect leadoff hitter. That crazy walk rate is why he has a .455 OBP.
I think the stolen base is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but this year the NESCAC basically has decided that stealing bases is stupid. The numbers for elite base stealers are way down. Trinity’s Nick Pezella ’16 leads the league with 15 stolen bases. Last year four players had more than that. Just four players are in double digits this year compared to 13 in 2015 (there are two guys at nine and a bunch at seven, though, so a few more should reach that plateau). However, it isn’t just the top guys stealing less. This is a league-wide change. Consider that Wesleyan has led the league with 46 steals this year, and yet five teams (half the league!) had more than that last year. Overall teams have stolen 27.8 percent less bases this year to date than a year ago. That is a huge drop, and while there’s still a lot of games to go, it would take Dee Gordon rediscovering his eligibility and playing the next few weeks for the Wesleyan Cardinals in order to get back to last year’s steal numbers (something that I bet Dee would be happy to do right now). I don’t know whether to give better catchers or slower runners the credit, but the evidence is there that managers had good reason to pull in the reins on their players this year. Teams got caught stealing 120 times last year; this season, already 118.
It’s unfortunate for this trio of schools that they are all in the same state, because when things go bad for all of them we almost have to write about it. Bowdoin, Colby and Bates all finished 4-8, far away from the playoffs. Is baseball harder in Maine? I kid, of course. What killed all of them was their inability to hit. The three teams finished last in the NESCAC in both OPB and SLG. We expected that it was going to be tough sledding for all these teams, and they showed a good amount of fight. The problem going forward is that all of them are graduating a lot of talent. Bates is probably the best positioned for next year in terms of making the playoffs, but in the longer term I like the youngsters on Bowdoin to return the Polar Bears to real prominence.
The 2015 NESCAC baseball season was one for the history books: from a star-studded senior class to a handful of record-breaking underclassmen claiming the spotlight, the players made an impact not only on their own teams but in the entire NESCAC conference. With the season underway, it’s time to review last year’s hits and misses and predict what we can expect from this year’s competition.
But ICYMI, for any reason (like me—they don’t play baseball in London, where I was last spring!), here’s a rundown of the biggest storylines from the 2015 season:
Wesleyan, Wesleyan, Wesleyan: the Continual Rise of the NESCAC Underdog
The Cardinals made history in 2014 when the underdogs grabbed the NESCAC Championship for the first time; they stunned us yet again in 2015 by holding on to the title in a nail-biting match-up against longtime rival Amherst in the final. It was wild. If you missed it (guilty), you really missed out.
Wesleyan just had everything in their arsenal and all the odds in their favor. The Cardinals didn’t graduate a single hitter after the 2014 campaign, and in 2015 the team ultimately produced the program’s record-breaking 31 wins. Offensively, Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, Andrew Yin ’15, current Cubs’ minor leaguer Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jonathan Dennett ’15 all produced in their final season. In the field Wesleyan was led by a trio of All-NESCAC performers: Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson ’16 (SS), all of whom were eager to build off the momentum they developed during their summer with the Cape Cod League. Together, the trio helped produce the strongest defense in the NESCAC.
But the talent didn’t stop there: on the mound Wesleyan was a serious force to be reckoned with. Returning starters Nick Cooney ’15, a 2014 All-NESCAC selection, and Gavin Pittore ’16 both pitched in the Cape Cod League in preparation for their season. Sam Elias ’15, who competed in the esteemed New England Collegiate Baseball League the summer before last, was honored with the 2015 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award after accumulating a 7.78 K/9 ratio and 1.53 ERA over 76.1 IP. Elias turned into an ace, doing double duty as a starter (seven starts) and closer (four saves), and his 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well. Pete Rantz ’16 rounded out the Cardinals’ dominant rotation, and has big shoes to fill after the graduation of two rotation mates and Pittore’s early departure.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend: the Unstoppable Odenwaelder
At 6’5″ and 225 lbs., Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is the type of baseball player you used to look at and wonder why he wasn’t playing Division-I ball, or even pro. After all, in his first two seasons alone, the player was crowned the 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and 2014 NESCAC Player of the Year and selected for the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team, the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.
The real question going into the 2015 season was whether or not Odenwaelder could continue to surpass expectations. He returned to the Jeffs last year fresh off his most successful season. In 2014, he hit .400 with six HRs and 31 RBI, posting a jaw-dropping slugging percentage of .607. On the mound he had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 IP. Though the Amherst star didn’t pitch for the majority of 2015 because of a shoulder injury, he continued to dominate the NESCAC with his powerful hitting. By the end of the 2015 season, Odenwaelder had racked up a total of 118 games, during which he developed a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases.
Tufts’ Secret Weapon: Tommy O’Hara ’18
O’Hara transitioned from “rookie” to “phenom” the moment he stepped onto the Jumbo diamond. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had an incredible .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks. But the question no one wanted to ask remained in the minds of Tufts’ NESCAC opponents: can a first-year really transform a team?
The answer was a thousand times, yes. Tufts’ offense was undoubtedly questionable at the beginning of the season and definitely needed bolstering if it was to make it to the NESCAC playoffs. O’Hara single-handedly delivered. The freshman infielder led the team with a .405 batting average, .518 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. He also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.
Oh, and did I mention he was First Team All-NESCAC as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year? I guess you could say he’s kind of a big deal.
Hamilton’s Franchise: Joe Jensen ’15
The former three-season athlete (football, track, and baseball) gave the Continents serious bragging rights last year, breaking records both on the diamond and off.
In March of last year Jensen outplayed the lofty expectations set out for him after a successful junior year in which he hit .398/.495/.430 and a sophomore campaign during which he set school records with 137 at bats, 30 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. He was in the top three in the NESCAC in batting average (.525), on-base percentage (.587), and slugging percentage (.775) at the end of the month. His trip to Florida was probably his shining moment in the 2015 season, as he had multiple hits in all six games. While his numbers dropped off once the Continentals returned home, he remained one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the NESCAC.
Jensen received NESCAC All-Conference honors last spring for the second time, earning second-team recognition after leading the league with 24 stolen bases and a gaudy .450 on-base percentage. His .398 batting average ranked third in the NESCAC.
“His ability to affect the game both defensively and offensively with his speed is something that sets him apart from his peers, both on the field and as a professional prospect,” Hamilton coach Tim Byrnes said following Jensen’s senior season. “Joe is a true take-away center fielder with a plus arm for this level. He’s able to use his plus speed to beat out infield singles, stretch singles into doubles and steal bases at will.”
Bowdoin’s Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (the NESCAC’s Best Non-Cardinal Pitcher)
Van Zant closed out a fantastic career for the Polar Bears by recording one of the finest seasons in program history; he tied the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games, with a 1.95 earned run average. That some rainy weather allowed Van Zant to pitch and win five NESCAC games is a miracle. Nobody had started five conference games since two players did so during the 2013 season, and Van Zant’s five wins in conference games is a NESCAC record. His complete game shutout over Wesleyan, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Polar Bears, made him 6-0 overall against NESCAC teams.
Van Zant’s career amounted to 17 win (tied for third in school history) and 168 career strikeouts (ranking him fifth all-time at Bowdoin). Van Zant was named a second-team selection for the All-NESCAC and D3baseball.com teams.
Though Van Zant ultimately lost the Pitcher of the Year nod to his top rival, his remarkable senior season no doubt gave the conference a difficult decision to make.
So with that in mind, here are some of the biggest questions you should have as the 2016 season unfolds:
The Pitcher Problem: Who will take the mount in place of former starters?
Year after year, graduation and the pros inevitably lead to casualties on teams’ rosters, but the damage inflicted this year, especially on the mound, is shocking. Reigning champs Wesleyan lost three—Elias, Pittore, Cooney—of their four top pitchers, leaving Rantz, who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015, to pick up the pieces. After losing Van Zant, Bowdoin has to redesign its pitching plan, and Trinity loses ace Sean Meekins ’15, (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 44.2 IP). Tufts lost Tom Ryan ’15 and Willie Archibad ’15. Amherst lost John Cook ’15. Even Middlebury lost Eric Truss ’15, who finished 9th in the NESCAC.
The pitching lineups of Hamilton, Williams, Bates and Colby appear unscathed, but time has yet to tell how the returning starters will mesh with the young up-and-comers on the roster.
While the teams’ are grateful for the underclassmen they set as starters last season, they still need to figure out how inexperienced pitchers will contribute to NESCAC competition during spring training. The clock’s ticking.
The Odenwaelder Inheritance: Who will fill the shoes left in centerfield?
As anticipated, Odenwaelder was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th Round (493 overall) of the 2015 Major League Draft. But anticipation didn’t seem to lead to effective planning: Odenwaelder’s incredible talent overshadowed several, if not most, of the other Jeffs, and has consequently left a gaping hole to be filled.
Thankfully, Amherst returns several promising team members, including Harry Roberson ’18, he finished his breakout freshman year with an OBP of .429. Yet, while Roberson is unquestionably a standout hitter, it’s unknown if he can carry the team like Odenwaelder. Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 and Connor Gunn’16 have promising stats, but it’s unlikely Amherst will be the same offensive dynamite as last spring.
Nevertheless, Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, so all hope is not lost for the Jeffs.
The End of an Era? How will reigning NESCAC champs Wesleyan compete against the competition after losing most of their starters?
Elias, Cooney, Goodwin-Boyd, Dennett and Yin are off the field and into the real world of post-college life. Pittore signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cimino is with the Cubs organization. Guys essential to the Wesleyan machine, and part of the epic 2015 class of athletes at Wesleyan, are no longer a part of its construction, and for the two-time reigning NESCAC champions, that’s pretty frightening.
Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 had a notable 2015 season and is back to up his game, but there are very few sure bets in the Cardinals’ lineup. On the flip side of that, though, the early returns on Wesleyan’s shiny, new lineup are darn right impressive. The Cardinals are hitting .386/.469/.600 as a squad through eight games down in Arizona. Gotta love that thin Tucson air.
Wesleyan has been so successful because it has been a complete, practiced team—the players worked for years to mesh together and become the reigning champions. There are a lot of gaping holes in the lineup now, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to fill them all this season. We’re looking at a dramatically different team than those we’ve grow accustomed to seeing come out of close games victorious again and again.
So, with Wesleyan in a sort of limbo, who will take up the mantle in the West? Amherst lost its beloved star to MLB, but still packs a ton of talent. Middlebury and Hamilton have promising players, but it’s unlikely that they are ready to step up to the plate. Williams has been in a sort of middle tier limbo for awhile now. I’d wager that Hamilton may have an inside track on a playoff spot; the team lost only one starting player going into this year, guaranteeing a solid lineup.
The Spring of Tufts? Do the Jumbos have what it takes to win the NESCAC East this season?
The Jumbos aren’t without any losses: their lineup will have to make do without big contributors like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. However, Tufts’ fantastic pitchers Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 give them a solid baseline on the field, and in a re-building season for many teams, that is a real boon. And then there’s O’Hara. Tommy O’Hara earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America accolades following a tremendous freshman campaign last spring.
By putting faith in underclassmen—and phenomenal ones at that—early on, the Jumbos have outsmarted other NESCAC teams struggling to pull together competitive lineups.
Chemistry on the Continentals: Is Hamilton the next NESCAC powerhouse?
Hamilton lost just one starter from the lineup, and the strength of the pitching rotation returns.
Even though the Continentals will play without Alex Pachella ’15 or JJ Lane ’15, co-captain Cole Dreyfuss ’16 stood out as the real pitching MVP for the Continentals last spring. Dreyfuss assembled a 5-2 record in seven starts and struck out 41 batters. He ended up third in the conference with a 1.89 earned run average in 47.2 innings.
Overall, the rotation is promising: hard-throwing right-hander Spencer Vogelbach ’18 was the No. 4 starter in 2015 but should be in the weekend rotation this season. Vogelbach went 4-1 with one save and was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA, averaging 9.90 strikeouts per nine innings and fanning a total of 44 batters in 40 innings, but with the propensity to get wild at times. Last season, Finlay O’Hara ’17 also emerged as a versatile arm, earning a 2-2 record and two saves. F. O’Hara struck out 28 hitters and walked just five in 28.2 innings. Depth in the bullpen is added by Dan DePaoli ’18, who fanned 22 batters in 22.2 innings. Charlie Lynn ’18 and Mike Borek ’18 provide depth in the bullpen.
Offensively, Hamilton has fostered a dangerous core group of juniors in twins Kenny and Chris Collins ’17, designated hitter Andrew Haser ’17 and outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17. Kenny Collins, one of this year’s captains, finished with 32 hits in 102 at-bats for a .314 average and scored 21 runs, while hitting six doubles and three triples. He was fourth in the NESCAC with 16 stolen bases and represented the Wellsville Nitros in the 2015 New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Chris Collins, meanwhile, hit .309 (30-97), cracked six doubles and stole 14 bases. Haser showed great improvement last season after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. To finish off the group, Wolfsberg developed his skills in the California Collegiate League last summer after finishing in fourth in the NESCAC with a .396 batting average (36-for-91) in 2015, smacking nine doubles, three triples and four homers and driving in 25 runs. The outfielder posted a .692 slugging percentage and a .449 on-base percentage.
Second baseman Zack Becker ’16 also proved to be an incredible offensive player last season, rebounding after a disastrous sophomore campaign. He was eighth in the conference with a .365 batting average (27-for-74) and enjoyed his best season at Hamilton with five doubles and a pair of round-trippers to go with an on-base percentage of .447.
In just two weeks, the season will begin in full force. While you can never really be sure what’s going to happen in baseball, it’s certain that these questions will significantly linger throughout the spring.
Editor’s Note: Our baseball coverage this spring is not going to be as comprehensive as in the past two seasons. Blame senior spring and most of our writers also being baseball players.
Every year February sneaks up on me because I’m busy not freezing to death while being caught up in the excitement of NESCAC basketball. So every year Bates begins their season and I’m blindsided. Players have been hard at work getting in practices either late at night or early in the morning. The season really gets going this Saturday with five NESCAC teams playing games, but the NESCAC regular season doesn’t begin until April 1 so you (and us too) have plenty of time to get up to speed.
The 2015 baseball senior class was a loaded one, and the additional loss of the two most talented underclassmen (more on them later) to Major League Baseball makes the returning talent pool even smaller. A lot of new names are going to make a major impact on this season, and it is unlikely the predictability of last season holds again. Wesleyan has reigned supreme for the past two years. They dominated last season going undefeated in the regular season and winning the NESCAC tournament, and they won the NESCAC tournament in 2014 as heavy underdogs.
Brief aside: we began this site in the spring of 2014 with coverage of baseball. For some reason, I had illusions that when we started the blog that it would spread quickly and our readership would quickly develop. That didn’t quite happen, and it took us a LONG time just to get 100 Twitter followers. I was a little discouraged by the end of the spring, but then something happened after Wesleyan won the NESCAC championship. I had been writing all spring about how I didn’t think the Cardinals were that good and had picked them to lose early in the tournament. After they won, one of the Wesleyan players (I’m pretty sure they’ve deleted their Twitter since then) tweeted at the blog handle saying something to the effect of, “How you like us now?” A ton of other guys on the Wesleyan team retweeted and favorited it, and that was when I knew that things were going to be all right.
Back to this year. Wesleyan is going to look a lot different this season. They have already started their season in Arizona, and boy did things go badly in the first game Sunday. Wesleyan went down 24-0 after the third inning in a game that was an unmitigated disaster. You shouldn’t read too much into it, though. The first game of a baseball season, especially for a team that has barely been able to practice outdoors because of the New England weather, is notoriously fickle. Trips down south count on the official record, but they are still viewed as glorified spring training games by most. Anyways, Wesleyan swept a doubleheader the next day.
Wesleyan loses Donnie Cimino ’15 and Andrew Yin ’15, their two hitters at the top of the lineup, and three other positional starters. That doesn’t hurt as badly as the losses in the rotation where Sam Elias ’15, Nick Cooney ’15, and Gavin Pittore ’16 are all gone. That trio threw basically all of the high leverage innings a season ago, and the rotation is a mystery behind Peter Rantz ’16 who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015. The good news is that slugging shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 is back and is mashing the ball so far. Guys like Robby Harbison ’17, who had a great freshman year but didn’t play much last year, and Marco Baratta ’16 need to have huge years offensively. Their best bet for winning a third consecutive NESCAC title is by mashing their way there, a very different story from their first two titles.
The two teams most likely to knock Wesleyan from their perch are Amherst and Tufts, traditional powers that also lost a good amount from last season. The loss of Mike Odenwaelder ’16 a year early is a major blow to Amherst, but they return a lot of other pieces in their lineup including Harry Roberson ’18 who is looking to build on a freshman year when he had an OBP of .429. The rotation was young a year ago, and guys like Sam Schneider ’18 have the chance to be cornerstone pieces now. Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, and I think the presence of Odenwaelder overshadowed some of the other phenomenal players on the team.
The Jumbos meanwhile are in a similar spot with the loss of some big lineup pieces like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. That hurts, but the duo of Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 gives them two legitimate frontline starters to trot out every weekend. In a wide open league, that is a luxury. The possibility of strikeout wizards Speros Varinos ’17 or Zach Brown ’18 replicating that ability over a larger amount of innings is intriguing. The other playoff team from the East, Bates, has a chance to be very good on the mound. Guys like Connor Colombo ’16 and Rob DiFranco ’16 have proven themselves to be above-average pitchers. I’m worried about the lineup because their three best hitters are all gone, but I had the same worry last year and guys stepped up then.
When looking for a team that could jump into the playoffs, no single team jumps out, honestly. The East was so even last year with every team having at least four wins that you would expect one of those teams to jump out. The problem is Trinity loses their three top hitters and ace, Sean Meekins ’15, leaving some big gaps to replace. Then Bowdoin has to find a way to win games without Henry Van Zant ’15 pitching them to it. A strong senior class featuring Chad Martin ’16 and Harry Ridge ’16 gives the Polar Bears hope, but like so many others, freshmen and sophomores have to step way up. Colby has nobody primed to replace Greg Ladd ’15 or Scott Goldberg ’15 in the weekend rotation, but their lineup should be improved.
Williams has a chance to make a big jump behind their young bats, but getting over the two giants in the West is so hard to do. The pitching for the Ephs was better a year ago, but it coincided with a drop in offensive production. Hamilton and Middlebury both look to be deeper than they were last season, but I think it’s a long shot for one of them to make such a big jump.
Overall, the season has a lot of uncertainty. The junior class is a weak one overall (more 2018 grads than 2017 grads made All-NESCAC teams last season), and that is the primary reason why so many young players are going to see playing time. I expect the talent bases of the elite teams to be strong enough to keep the status quo in place. But again, it’s March 9, and not even coaches really know what they have.
I’m still a few weeks away from being able to watch NESCAC games in person, but I’m excited for when I do get to watch some baseball. A NESCAC doubleheader can be over in a brisk four hours, and the large college rosters makes for a lively atmosphere even if not many fans besides parents show. We will get there eventually folks, just hang in there.
All the drama this weekend will come from two East Divisional series in Maine, a state that to this point has seen only three NESCAC games. Unless the rain gets in the way and postpones games, this weekend should see that number double as Trinity travels to Bowdoin and Tufts visits Colby.
Unless Hamilton can somehow manage to find a way to shock Amherst, Amherst and Wesleyan should continue to dominate their West Division foes. The Cardinals travel to Middlebury to take on the Panthers. Last year the Cardinals won both of the Saturday doubleheader games by only one run so do not expect Middlebury to shrink from the moment. Meanwhile, the Continentals are going to have to find some way to slow down an Amherst offense that has an insane .504 OBP and seven home runs in their six NESCAC games. Having the games in New York with the short porch in left probably won’t help.
And that is all I’m going to say about the West today. Onto the East.
Three to Watch
1. Relief Pitcher Zach Brown ’18 (Tufts)
Relievers are generally volatile and inconsistent in the NESCAC, but Brown is a critical piece for the Jumbos as their closer. Some might pause at putting such a young player in that position, but an eye-popping 1.72 ERA and 13.29 K/9 will generally make your manager trust you even if you are a freshman. Brown did get the loss last weekend against Trinity when he came in during the eighth inning with runners on first and second and no outs. He worked the bases loaded with two outs before surrendering a bases clearing double that put Trinity ahead 7-6. That isn’t going to stop Brown from getting the call again if the game is close late and the Jumbos need to lock things down.
2. Starting Pitcher Greg Ladd ’15 (Colby)
If Colby’s other two starting pitchers, Soren Hanson ’16 and Scott Goldberg ’15, are the heavy artillery of the rotation, Ladd is the sniper picking his spots. Last year he barely struck anybody out and had an ERA of 2.51, but he has struggled to maintain that level this year and has a 6.12 ERA including a 12.00 ERA in three NESCAC appearances. However, a couple of factors suggest he could shake off his struggles. First, his strikeout rate is up to an actually respectable 6.12 K/9. Second, Ladd has a WHIP of 1.28 which would indicate that he has suffered somewhat from cluster luck. Giving up two home runs explains some of that unluckiness but certainly not all of it. All three of Colby’s starters need to have good starts this weekend, but Ladd might be the biggest one of them all.
3. Second Baseman Aaron Rosen ’15 (Bowdoin)
The most consistent hitter for Bowdoin is enjoying his best season yet as a senior with a .447 OBP and .590 SLG%. After not hitting any homers before this year, he has three already including one off of Tufts’ Kyle Slinger ’15. On Tuesday, an 0-3 day in the first game of a doubleheader snapped his 12-game hitting streak, but he responded in the second game going 3-4 with a double and triple. The big knock on Rosen throughout his career has been defense, and that has carried over to this year as he already has nine errors for the season. Still, his bat more than makes up for it as he is the Polar Bears’ most important hitter in their lineup.
Trinity (10-11, 2-4) at Bowdoin (9-14, 2-3)
Friday 3:30 PM: Jed Robinson ’16 (Trinity) vs. Henry Van Zant ’15 (Bowdoin). Saturday 12:00 PM: Sean Meekins ’15 (Trinity) vs. Harry Ridge ’16 (Bowdoin). Saturday 2:30 PM: Chris Speer ’17 (Trinity) vs. Erik Jacobsen ’15 (Bowdoin).
The Bantams and Polar Bears currently sit in the final two positions in the East, and whoever loses this series will see their playoff hopes essentially come to an end. A sweep would jolt the victor right into the thick of things for that second spot. This weekend is Bowdoin’s home opener as well.
The Friday pitching matchup in this one is very juicy with Van Zant pitching like the best in the NESCAC and Robinson sporting a 2.77 ERA. Though teams have touched Robinson up some in conference, he could still give the Polar Bear offense a little trouble . The other starters for both teams have struggled in their NESCAC games, and Van Zant is the only starter on either team to have a win. Despite those recent struggles, every pitcher in this series is more than capable of having a great start. Given that both of these offenses are below average, expect a low-scoring series.
Peter Cimini ’16 has returned and is now leading off for Bowdoin which should solidify the top of the lineup and make them much more dangerous to pitch against. The Polar Bear offense tends to falter outside of their top guys so returning Cimini instead of one of their peripheral players is a big improvement. On the other side, the Bantams are enjoying a little power surge with four home runs in their NESCAC games. Still, they remain one position behind Bowdoin in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Whichever offense can string hits together and not have them scattered will give their team a big advantage.
Prediction: Bowdoin wins two of three.
Tufts (19-5, 4-2) at Colby (14-6, 3-3)
Friday 3:00 PM: TBA vs. Scott Goldberg ’15 (Colby). Saturday 12:00 PM: Tim Superko ’17 (Tufts) vs. Greg Ladd ’15 (Colby). Saturday 2:30 PM Andrew David ’16 (Tufts) vs. Soren Hanson ’16 (Colby).
See that TBA up in the probable starters section? That could or could not be Kyle Slinger, aka the 2014 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year. He was involved in a collision in Tufts’ game on Sunday and had to leave the game after one inning. Given that he also missed time earlier in the year after getting an errant throw to his head, it would not be shocking to see the Jumbos be safe and leave him out though we don’t know what specific injury he suffered at this time.
If Slinger is not able to go, senior Tom Ryan ’15 will end up starting one of the Saturday games and Superko will start on Friday. Ryan is a solid starter who threw a complete game, one-run outing on Monday against Salem State, so it’s not like the Jumbos are panicking if Slinger can’t go, but they would still prefer him to be out there because a series loss would make their playoff position suddenly precarious. A great performance from their offense would of course render any worries about the rotation mute. Connor McDavitt ’15 has been inconsistent at the plate with three homers but only a .271 AVG. However, given that he has 25 walks to make his OBP .427, he is still enjoying a very good senior year.
For Colby this is a make or break series. After dropping two of three to Bates they need to rebound and find a way to take, at the very, very least, one game. As mentioned above, their three starters all have to enjoy quality starts. The only consistent reliever the Mules have is freshman Daniel Schoenfield ’18 who admittedly has been very solid in his 10 total appearances thus far. The big problem though is that after appearing to turn a corner in March, the Mule offense has reverted back to its 2014 form and is last in the league in both average and on-base percentage. Tommy Forese ’16 is the only hitter who has hit above average in their six conference games with a .500 average and two home runs. Jason Buco ’15 continues to struggle after being the team’s offensive leader last year. The Mules are hoping this series comes down to a couple of plays that they make and the Jumbos don’t. Unfortunately for Colby, I think that the Tufts offense will do too much against the Colby pitchers.
The NESCAC conference season is starting Friday, albeit in a somewhat lesser fashion than usual because of the weather. Still, with the beginning of conference games upon us, now is a good time as ever to Power Rank the teams. You will get a good idea of our impressions for every team from this. Then check back in later today to see our predictions for how the teams will finish in the standings and who will make the NCAA tournament.
All records are from 2015
1. Wesleyan (8-4, 0-0)
A year ago we didn’t expect Wesleyan to end up winning the NESCAC, but now we will be more surprised if they DON’T win it. The offense led by Wesleyan’s all-time hits leader Donnie Cimino ’15 and CoSIDA All-American Andrew Yin ’15 is stacked across the board. Nick Cooney ’15 and Gavin Pittore ’16 anchor the pitching staff. This team only has one weakness that we can point out: pitching depth. Jeff Blout ’14, Chris Law ’14 and Jimmy Hill ’14 combined to throw 117 innings – 31 percent of Wesleyan’s total – last season. Four of the top five pitchers in terms of innings are back but after that top four there is some uncertainty. Of course, Wesleyan’s problem is peanuts compared to those that other contenders have to deal with.
2. Tufts (9-3, 0-0)
The Jumbos have gotten off to a good start once again this year. Unlike the other NESCAC schools that fly all the way south to either Florida or Arizona, Tufts travels to North Carolina and Virginia. Connor McDavitt ’15 is getting on-base at a nifty .458 OBP to get things going at the top of the lineup. The numbers for the pitching staff are gaudy which gives pause about the level of competition that the Jumbos have faced, but this is also the most accomplished staff in the league. Tufts will face off in a big series against Bowdoin starting Friday.
3. Amherst (6-6, 0-0)
The Jeffs remain somewhat of a mystery after their spring trip. Their split of a doubleheader against #4 St. Thomas is an indication of how good the Jeffs can be. Ace John Cook ’15 was excellent in that start going 7.1 innings and a solo home run was the only offense St. Thomas managed against him. However, the Jeffs also gave up twelve runs in consecutive seven inning games. New shortstop Harry Roberson ’17 is hitting the ball great with an average well above .400, but he also already has seven errors, an untenable amount at this point. This team might not be as deep as past years which could ultimately doom them in the NESCAC race.
4. Colby (6-1, 0-0)
The Mules stock has gone up the most from the beginning of the season. They are still in the midst of their trip to Florida, but the early returns have been very promising. Unfortunately, we only have the statistics for two of their games, but their scoring differential has been great. Their offense has scored above 10 runs in five of their seven games thus far. Given that this was the worst offense in the NESCAC a year ago and they lost several key pieces, that could spell great news for the Mules. We won’t see them in NESCAC action until next weekend, however.
5. Bates (5-3, 0-0)
We have barely seen the Bobcats in action over the past month, and we still know very little about how their rotation is going to shake out. Because they have had so few games, their starters have only been going a few innings before giving way to their deep bullpen. A good sign for the Bobcats’ offense is that they are averaging the second most walks per game, something that they were very good at a year ago as well. Evan Czopek ’16 has been fantastic thus far in the lineup.
6. Bowdoin (5-8, 0-0)
The Polar Bears struggled through a somewhat uneven spring break, but they also faced some injury problems as well as a hard stretch of opponents. The key for them, as we said before, is finding a way to hit all the way through their lineup. Chad Martin ’16 has hit three home runs already in the middle of the lineup and has cemented himself as one of the premier power hitters in the league. Henry Van Zant ’15 allowed five runs but also struck out 13 batters with no walks in his last outing in Florida. If he becomes a fully fledged ace, then the Polar Bears will be thinking playoffs.
7. Trinity (7-5, 0-0)
The Bantams spring trip started out great with a five-game winning streak before they dropped five out of seven games to finish on a down note. The main problem for them on the second half of their trip was the offense averaging only 2.5 runs per game in the final six games. Once again, none of the Bantams showed much power as the team didn’t hit any home runs on their trip, but the impact of freshman Brendan Pierce ’18 in the lineup is promising. Some players like Daniel Pidgeon ’15 are bound to rebound from a slow start and help the Bantam offense recover at least somewhat. Also, note how tightly-packed the 4-7 spots are. The East, behind Tufts, remains wide open and these teams are basically interchangeable at this point.
8. Williams (3-3, 0-0)
The Ephs only started their spring trip this past weekend so they are still a little behind some of the other teams at this point. Besides Jack Cloud ’17, none of the Ephs main hitters have hit well thus far, and the back end of the rotation has not looked great thus far either. The Ephs’ three wins have come against mediocre competition. Still, the Ephs can make those worries mostly go away with a dominant performance in their opening series against Middlebury.
9. Hamilton (6-5, 0-0)
We would have put the Continentals higher if they hadn’t dropped a doubleheader to Colby on Tuesday. The two games exposed the lack of quality starters for Hamilton behind Jjay Lane ’15. Cole Dreyfuss ’16 is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his two starts so far so he could end up being a critical piece for Hamilton. The Colby starters basically shut down the Hamilton lineup besides Joe Jensen ’15. Hamilton will not open their NESCAC season until April 10 when they travel to Middlebury so they will remain in the background for a little while.
10. Middlebury (0-6, 0-0)
Still searching for their first win, the Panthers have seen consecutive late inning leads slip away the last two games in their opponents’ final at bat. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 has been a fun story so far, but Middlebury is not going to see results on the field unless their pitchers start getting opponents out more consistently. The team ERA is an almost unfathomable 13.92 at this point. That number must, and certainly will, come way down. Still, Joe MacDonald ’16, who is expected to basically be an innings-eater (disclosure: Joe is the co-founder of Nothing but NESCAC) is the only pitcher with an ERA below 7.00 at this point. The good news is that the lineup is hitting better than last year with Raj Palekar ’18 enjoying a torrid start to his career, even though some of the guys expected to carry the load, MacDonald included, are off to slow starts.
2014 Record: 34-9 (9-3, Lost in NESCAC Championship Game, 1-2 in NCAA New England Regional)
Returning Starters: 7 (5 Position Players, 2 Pitchers)
Projected Starting Lineup (2014 Stats):
CF Connor McDavitt ’15 (.345/.461/.455, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 15 SB)
LF Cody McCallum ’16 (.226/.327/.238, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 7 SB)
DH Bryan Egan ’15 (.258/.368/.290, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
3B Tommy O’Hara ’18
SS Matt Moser ’15 (.299/.371/.422, 2 HR, 28 RBI)
1B James Howard ’15 (.280/.415/.320, 0 HR, 11 RBI)
C Nick Barker ’15 (.346/.466/.432, 1 HR, 13 RBI)
2B Tom Petry ’17 (.256/.424/.333/ 0 HR, 17 RBI)
RF Harry Brown ’16 (.200/.273/.200, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
SP Kyle Slinger ’15 (9-0, 1.18 ERA)
SP Tom Superko ’17 (4-2, 2.64 ERA)
SP Andrew David ’16 (4-3, 3.60 ERA)
Tufts’ offensive is the only aspect of their team that causes any uncertainty heading into 2015. Though the Jumbos’ .278 team average in 2014 was middle of the pack, Tufts stakes its identity on its pitching and defense, so if the offense can produce at a high level they will be very tough to beat. The middle of the order will look very different this season as Wade Hauser ’14 and Max Freccia ’14 both graduated last spring. Centerfielder Connor McDavitt ’15 enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 where he hit .345 with 28 RBIs and tied for the team lead with 14 doubles. McDavitt is a sure lock for the lead off spot in the Jumbos’ lineup. Nick Barker ’15 hit .345 in a part-time role last year and figures to share time behind the plate with classmate Bryan Egan ’15. James Howard ’15 figures to get quality at bats at first base after batting .280 with 18 walks over 29 starts in 2014. Matt Moser ’15 will play a key offensive role after earing All-NESCAC honors last year and batting .299 with a team leading 38 RBIs.
The Jumbos Defense is one of the best not only in the NESCAC, but also in the nation. Flashing a .967 fielding percentage a year ago, they look to continue their tradition of defensive excellence. The centerpiece of the Jumbos defense will be returning NESCAC Defensive POY McDavitt. McDavitt had just one error in 105 total chances last year and tallied five outfield assists. All-NESCAC First Team SS Moser, who helped Tufts turn 40 double plays last year, and 2B Tom Petry ’17, who had a .960 fielding percentage, figure to form one of the strongest middle infields in the NESCAC. The Jumbos will look to Barker and Egan to split time behind the plate as First Team All-NESCAC catcher Nick Cutsumpas ’14 graduated.
Like their defense, the Jumbos pitching aims to be one of the top staffs in the country. Tufts ranked seventh nationally with a 2.53 ERA last season. Anchored by the reigning NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and NEIBA and D3Baseball.com All-New England First Teamer Kyle Slinger ’15, Tufts figures to dominate their NESCAC competition again. Slinger, a pro prospect and D3baseball.com preseason All-American, went 9-0 and posted an unreal 1.18 ERA over 76 innings in 2014. Also returning to the starting rotation is reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year Tim Superko ’17. In 2014, Superko logged 58 innings while posting a 2.64 ERA and an impressive 2.4 K/BB ratio. The Jumbos will look to replace Christian Sbily ’14, an All-NESCAC Second Team pick, with righty Andrew David ’16. The Jumbos’ bullpen will be strong once again as Tom Ryan ’15, who posted a team leading 2.8 K/BB ratio, and Willie Archibald ’15 look to shut down opponent’s offenses in the late innings and Speros Varinos ’17, who matched Ryan for the most appearances last year, could rack up a lot of saves for the Jumbos.
Storylines to Watch:
1. Can Tufts avenge their NESCAC championship loss?
After missing the conference tournament for two years in a row, the Jumbos returned with a bang by winning the East pennant and earning a berth into the Championship series. After forcing a winner-take-all game by beating Wesleyan 10-0 on the brink of elimination but ultimately dropping the finale, the Jumbos are on a mission to take back the throne. With a nationally-ranked defense and pitching staff, the Jumbos are in prime position to take home the NESCAC crown in 2015. With the reigning POY and reigning ROY returning to their starting rotation, the Jumbos aim to do some serious damage in the NESCAC.
2. What will Kyle Slinger accomplish in his senior season?
Kyle Slinger has been one of the most dominant pitchers over his career at Tufts. Last year’s performance was one for the record books as he held opposing hitters to an astonishing .174 batting average. Slinger’s previous performance lead to D3Baseball.com selecting him to be a pre-season All-American. With his impressive track record, expect Slinger to raise the bar even further this season and put up some mind-blowing stats.
3. How does the Jumbos lineup shake out?
If there is anything that can hold Tufts back this season it is the offense. Can their offense provide enough run support for its heralded starters? Can returning players such as Moser and McDavitt step up to replace last year’s seniors? Either way the Jumbos will need multiple players to step up to fill in the gap. Freshmen such as Tommy O’Hara ’18, Michael McLaughlin ’18, Christian Zazzali ’18 and Stefan White ’18 figure to get an opportunity to compete for at bats if the returners don’t produce.
Biggest Series: April 24-25 against Bates
Bates probably presents the stiffest challenge that Tufts will face in the NESCAC East, and the two teams’ strengths match up with one another, as the Bobcats figure to bang the ball around the park quite a bit this season. It will be fun to watch two of the league’s best units go after one another, and either team could be fighting for a spot in the NESCAC tournament seeing as this represents the last conference series of the regular season for both teams.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two weekends of conference of play have gone by, and the East Division looks increasingly muddled. We knew entering the season that Bates and Colby would be improved, Bowdoin and Trinity had lost a lot of talent, and Tufts probably had the most potential in the division. All of that has held true, and it has made the first two weekends unpredictable. Without further ado, here are my rankings of the East so far this season.
1. Tufts (17-1, 1-0) – Putting Tufts first is an easy choice given their dominance so far this season. Yet they have only played one conference game because they were off this weekend and had their doubleheader against Bates postponed two weekends ago. Centerfielder Connor McDavitt ’15 has been outstanding at the top of the linep with a .449 OBP and seven stolen bases without being thrown out once. The Jumbos have great balance on offense and rival Amherst for the best staff in the league. The only possible wart they have shown thus far is their propensity to allow a lot of walks. Ace Kyle Slinger ’15 especially has given out a lot of free passes with 16 walks in 32 innings. Besides that Tufts doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses. Tufts has proven beyond a doubt that they are the best team on paper, but we still aren’t sure how they will look in conference play. Even if they sweep Trinity to go to 4-0 in conference it probably tells us more about Trinity than Tufts. Still, given their talent level, any finish below first in the East will be a surprise.
2. Colby (10-4, 2-1) – This has been the NESCAC’s surprise team so far this season, but people should probably wait a weekend before piling onto the bandwagon. The Colby-Bowdoin series on Friday and Saturday will show if Colby will be in it for the long haul. Right now the Mules are riding high after taking two of three from Trinity. Jason Buco ’15 made us look pretty smart for highlighting him on Friday when he hit two homers the first game of the weekend to up his season total to four. Scott Goldberg ’15 was chased in the fifth inning by the Trinity bats, but Lucas Geoghegan ’14 was superb in relief going 4.1 scoreless innings for the win as Buco’s second homer in the seventh proved to be the difference. Colby couldn’t complete the sweep when Trinity broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth of the finale, but they are still happy with the weekend’s results. Geoghegan (1.76 ERA) has rebounded to his 2012 performance after he saw limited action last season, and both Greg Ladd ’15 (2.50 ERA) and Goldberg (1.53 ERA) have taken a big step forward. All of this has helped Colby’s pitching be much better than last year. If that pitching continues then Colby will prove they aren’t a fluke.
3. Bowdoin (11-6-1, 3-3) – Wait didn’t Bates just beat Bowdoin in two out of three games this weekend! Look, Bates played great and gave Bowdoin trouble, but I am not going to overreact to one weekend of games even if they were head-to-head. Bowdoin is still rounding into form on the mound with Christian Martin ’14 making his first appearance of the year and Henry Van Zant ’15 making his third relief appearance. Bates knocked around both Erik Jacobsen ’15 and Harry Ridge ’16 in the first two games, but the two should rebound. Ridge had been spectacular so far until he allowed six runs in only three innings on Saturday prompting some to worry he will see a repeat of last season when he struggled in some starts while looking great in others. Outfielder John Lefeber ’14 has really struggled in the six league games going 2-22 at the plate. He and Aaron Rosen ’15 (.276 AVG) have yet to bust out at the plate, but have done a good job drawing walks to get on base. Expect those two to show up big in the next few weekends. The good news is that Jay Loughlin ’14 came up huge on the mound in the final game to give Bowdoin the win in the finale, and Bowdoin can reclaim control of their destiny by winning this weekend against Colby.
4. Bates (8-9, 2-2) – They showed why some thought that the Bobcats were primed for a surprise run this season this past weekend against Bowdoin. Our other player to watch heading in to the weekend, Brad Reynolds ’14, won NESCAC Pitcher of the Week after he went six innings, allowed only one (unearned) run, and struck out ten. Kevin Davis ’14 went 8-13 and had an impressive 10 RBIs over the three games. There are a lot of positives right now for Bates, but they are still below .500 on the season. Number two starter Chris Fusco ’14 got knocked around in the second game though the offense was good enough to overcome his lackluster start. Will Levangie ’15 probably solidified his status as the third starter with his performance in the final game, but that was really his first good performance of the season. Behind Davis and Griffin Tewksbury ’14 the offense has been very lackluster. Bates needs those two to continue to rake and others to step up in order for the offense to offset some of the questions about the pitching behind Reynolds.
5. Trinity (7-12, 2-4) – By far the biggest disappointment to-date in the NESCAC in head coach Bryan Adamski’s first season, the Bantams have shown flashes, but at this point it is looking more and more unlikely that they will be able to make a playoff push. The question is exactly how far they have fallen. An optimistic view says they are good enough to steal a game from Tufts and could easily win or even sweep their series against Bates. A pessimist says we are judging them off of past success and they really aren’t that good. The pessimistic view also suggests that we are overrating Colby and Bowdoin for their series victory over the Bantams. The starting pitching this weekend against Colby was very good in every game, but in the first two games the bullpen faltered. The offense was pretty much dormant until it exploded for five runs in the final inning of the second game. The rally fell short by one run, but showed Trinity is not going to go quietly into the night. Brian Wolfe ’15 and Scott Pidgeon ’15 have been carrying the offense, and they need others to step up. With three games still remaining against Tufts, Trinity is in position to force a rise through the rankings if they can put the pieces together.