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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
Before we start these rankings, I just need to call everyone’s attention to Rory’s profile on the Tufts website.
Pretty bold claim to call yourself the “lead writer” of a blog when you haven’t written anything since basketball season, but hey, that’s just, like, my opinion man. Anyway, there are several crucial series for playoff standing in this final weekend, so let’s see where each team stands.
Don’t worry Jumbos fans, you’re not in danger of losing your number one spot. But it is time for us to talk about Tufts’ inability to sweep a series. Despite being pretty undisputedly the best team in the league for this entire season, in each of their league series they have dropped a game, including to weaker teams like Bowdoin and Colby. I know that seems like a champagne problem (plenty of teams in the league would kill to take two out of three in every series,) but Tufts is simply too good to be dropping games to Bowdoin. Let’s delve deeper into Tufts’ losses. Obviously, none of them have come in games started by ace starter Speros Varinos ‘17, who is 7-0. RJ Hall has two of those losses Tim Superko ‘17 has one. Both of those starters have ERA above 3.4, with Superko sitting at a pedestrian 4.23. Tufts seems to have some problems in terms of depth in the starting rotation. This will not be a problem in the regular season, but in the playoffs it might manifest itself in an ugly way.
Bates’ Cinderella carriage hit a classic New England pothole last weekend against Trinity, as the Bobcats dropped two out three games. One of the reasons that Bates’ 7 game league winning streak was remarkable is that they were doing it in spite of a relatively impotent offense. Bates only hits .246 for the season, and in league play that number drops to .234. Obviously, Bates’s pitching has been making up for lack of offense so far this year. Bates’ ERA in league play is 2.25, which is nearly a full run better than Tufts (a distant second at 3.21.) Connor Speed ‘18 is the ace of the staff, with a 2.52 ERA in 35 innings. But his 1-3 record reveals the problem that Bates saw exposed against Trinity. If the pitching falters for even a moment, the offense cannot back them up. They have a three game series against Tufts coming up this weekend– that’s a must watch, by the way– and then a four game series against WIlliams. These are two of the best offenses in the league, and if they can get to the Bates staff, Bates could close the league season in the opposite way from how they started.
At the three and four spots we have two teams who have been steadily climbing in the standings over the last couple weeks in the Panthers and the (newly minted) Mammoths. Middlebury gets the edge because they took two of three from Amherst earlier this season. This has been a magical season for the Panthers, a program that was in desperate need of some energy. In fact Middlebury (who has clinched a playoff berth and is one Amherst loss this weekend away from the number one overall seed in the West) is the hottest team in either conference as they are riding a seven game winning streak in league play. Offensively, Middlebury relies heaviily on the senior duo of Ryan Rizzo ‘17 and Jason Lock ‘17. With a .375 OBP and 14 steals, Rizzo is a classic leadoff hitter, and Lock is adept at knocking him in (27 RBI on the year.) Sophomore Sam Graf ‘19 and Justin Han ‘20 have also put up terrific offensive seasons and keep the future bright for the Panthers.
Amherst might be the next hottest team in the league. They have won four in a row overall and 5 of their last six in league play. Like Middlebury, Amherst is a potent offense. They have six players with on base percentages over .400, and with league RBI leader Yanni Thanopoulos ‘17 in the middle of the order, that is a dangerous proposition for opponents. But Amherst’s hot streak has been primarily due to the improvement of their pitching. They have a bonafide ace in Jackson Volle ‘17 (5-0, 1.71 ERA) but their team ERA has improved from 5.21 overall to 3.63 in league play. Amherst’s offense was always good, but now that their pitching is catching up, they are extremely dangerous.
I would imagine that at the beginning of the year, Wesleyan envisioned being a little higher in these rankings than fifth. But they simply have not hit well enough to win the close games that NESCAC play often brings about. In their sweep at the hands of Middlebury last weekend, they only scored nine runs in the whole series, despite several good scoring chances. Outside of Matt Jeye ‘18, the Cardinals don’t have much in the way of power (their slugging percentage in league play is an abysmal .290.) This means that each run they give up feels like a disaster, as they will have to scratch and claw to get it back. Wesleyan has a chance this weekend to get back in the mix with a three game set against Amherst, but they’ll need a couple big hits to do so.
Williams is another team who should be somewhat disappointed to be down here at this point in the season. The Ephs have a trio of stud freshman pitchers in John Lamont ‘20, Sean Hager ‘20 and Kyle Dean ‘20 who have combined for an 8-3 record with a 2.33 ERA. They also have a possible POY in Kellen Hatheway ‘19 (.392 AVG, 1.079 OPS) and have two other excellent hitters in Jack Cloud ‘17 and Jack Roberts ‘18. And yet, here they are at 4-5 in NESCAC play, and that’s including taking three out of four from Colby last weekend. It has been their pitching that has faltered in conference play (their .303 batting average against is second worst in the league.) However, they have a three game set against Hamilton coming up. Williams should be thinking sweep there, and if they get it done, they would be at the mercy of Wesleyan sweeping Amherst to make the tournament.
The Polar Bears had a pretty impressive performance against a far superior Tufts teams, grabbing a win and coming within a run of taking another. And they have a three game set against a weaker Colby team. They should be smelling sweep against the Mules, and they have the starting pitchers to do it. There may not be a player in the league who can impact a game like Brandon Lopez ‘19. Lopez is Bowdoin’s best starter at 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA, and he is also their best hitter, stroking the ball at a .342 clip with a .962 OPS. Lopez can change a game, and series on both sides of the ball. Bowdoin has two other solid starters in Max Vogel-Freedman ‘18 (2.90 ERA) and Colby Lewis ‘20 (3-2, 3.55 ERA.) If Bowdoin can somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs, this trio of starters could make them very dangerous. But they have to sweep Colby first.
The Bantams recovered from a rough start in league play by taking two of three against East-leading Bates last weekend. They did it with pitching, holding the Bobcats (who aren’t exactly a dynamic offense, but still) to just two runs over the final two games. They have a top heavy lineup led by Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.362 BA) and Brendan Pierce ‘18 (4 HR.) Senior Nick Dibenedetto rounds out the threats in the lineup with a .348 AVG and 24 RBI. However Trinity doesn’t get a lot of offense from the rest of their lineup, meaning that any wins they get where that trio doesn’t carry them have to be well pitched games. Against Bates, they had two of those. We will see if they get the chance in the postseason to have more.
Colby honestly just does not have the talent to win NESCAC games, but they have shown the heart to compete. Their offense lacks punch (only three home runs on the year) and their pitching has been generally horrific with a 6.23 overall ERA. However, they have grabbed two wins against superior teams (Wesleyan and Trinity,) and all three of their losses to Williams were by one run. Colby has been playing for little other than pride for some time now, and their heart as a team has shown through the losses.
The Continentals may be the team who has underachieved most in league play. Despite being near the top in overall offensive stats, in NESCAC games every one of their team numbers is near the bottom They have a solid pitching duo in Finlay O’Hara ‘17 and Dan DePaoli ‘18, and on paper have an excellent lineup. But they seem to have jacked up their stats a bit against a weak non-conference schedule and have been unprepared for the jump to better competition. They have a series against Williams that matters for nothing but pride. It is a good chance to honor their seniors and leave a good aftertaste in an otherwise disappointing year.
As the final weekend series approach, the races for playoff bids are tightening up. Bates and Tufts battle for the top rank in the East while Amherst and Middlebury currently sit atop the West. Wesleyan, however can get back in the running for a spot in the postseason with a series win. Some seniors will say goodbye to NESCAC play and others will continue to fight for a championship. Check out the key players to watch for in this final NESCAC regular season weekend.
Bates @ Tufts
Bates: Connor Speed ‘18
Speed’s record does not even come close to representing the impressive season he has put together. Bates, despite a Division leading 7-2 record, have failed to give Speed the run support he deserves, resulting in a 1-3 record for the Bobcats’ number one starter. Speed has thrown a team high 35.2 innings in 7 starts. In these appearances, he has allowed only 10 earned runs for a 2.52 ERA. He has also struck out 33 batters, which stands at 6th in the league. The junior has compiled a solid season thus far, but his biggest start of the year is this weekend against the strong Tufts team only one game behind Bates in the standings. Speed looks to reproduce his outing against Bowdoin in which he went 8 innings strong giving up only 2 earned runs. His start will be critical for the Bobcats if they want to maintain their number one seed for the postseason.
Tufts: Ian Kinney ‘18
The Tufts pitching staff has been highlighted by reigning Pitcher of the Year Speros Varinos ‘17, who is likely to defend his title this spring. Behind him are pitchers Tim Superko and R.J. Hall, who have also put together solid seasons. However, a major key in the Jumbos success, is reliever Ian Kinney. He has consistently come out of the bullpen whenever needed and pitched well. Tied in 5th with 12 appearances, only one behind the league lead, Kinney has solidified himself as one of the best closers in the NESCAC. In these 12 appearances, Kinney has put together 4 saves, also one behind the league lead. He has pitched 18.1 innings with a 2.95 ERA and 21 strikeouts giving an outstanding 10.31 K/9 ratio. In this highly competitive weekend series, Tufts will need their number one reliever to continue his success. With much on the line, look for Coach Casey to use Kinney in tough situations and to close out tight games.
Colby @ Bowdoin
Colby: Ryder Arsenault ‘17
In a lineup that has only hit .257 as a team, the Mules are looking for any bat to get hot. Arsenault, leading the team in at bats, has the potential to be that bat. Having reached base in six consecutive games, the lineup looks toward their senior leader to continue his streak in the series against Bowdoin. While his stats so far this season don’t necessarily pop out to the naked eye, Arsenault has shown his versatility throughout the year. His 109 at bats not only lead the team, but is second in the Conference, showing his durability. Additionally, while hitting a modest .275, Arsenault also stands second in the league for Sacrifice Flies. Also, even with all his plate appearances, the center fielder has only hit into one double play. Overall, Arsenault has done a little bit of everything for this struggling Colby offense. If he can pick it up, the Mules may be able to rally around their senior and score some runs against Bowdoin.
Bowdoin: Sawyer Billings ‘18
Billings has quietly put together a solid year at the plate despite the team hitting .259. Having played in 21 of the team’s 26 games, the utility player has hit .313 in 64 at bats. From those plate appearances, he has scored 9 runs, one behind the team lead as well as team leading 8 doubles. The Polar Bears hope that Billings can replicate his performance against Trinity this upcoming series against Colby. The junior went 5-9 with 4 runs and 5 RBI’s against the Bantams, while hitting 4 of his season total of 8 doubles. These at bats contributed heavily in the Bowdoin sweep over their opponent. A similar trend occurred against Tufts; if Billings hits well, the Polar Bears come out victorious. In their two loses, he went 0-5, but in the team’s win, the utility player went 2-4 with a run scored. Bowdoin hopes that Billings has himself a big weekend as they look to win the series.
Williams @ Hamilton
Williams: Jack Cloud ‘17
Kellen Hatheway has gotten all the attention after his Rookie of the Year performance last season and now his bid for NESCAC Player of the Year. However, Cloud has been nothing short of excellent all season as well. The outfielder in his final season has put together 89 at bats in the two-hole resulting in a .337 average. He has scored 25 runs, or 15% of the teams total this season. For in-conference games, his 13 runs lead the league. Cloud has also shown speed on the base paths, with team leading 7 steals and 2 triples. He has shown consistency too, as the outfielder has reached base in 20 of the 22 games he has appeared in this season, getting at least one hit in 17 of them. Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, Williams looks to win the final NESCAC series of the year. If Cloud’s success continues, they should be able to do so. In terms of extra motivation, the senior will look to put his final stamp on NESCAC play this weekend against division opponent Hamilton.
Hamilton: Finlay O’Hara ‘17
Finlay O’Hara has put together an impressive year, proving that he and fellow starter Dan DePaoli ’18 are one of the most dominant starting duos in the NESCAC. He has eight appearances with six starts totaling 36 innings exactly on the season so far, showing his versatility as a key arm for the Hamilton staff. For instance, he made a relief appearance in game 1 against Amherst in last weekend’s series, and then made the next day. His six starts have resulted in only a 3-2 record, but his ERA is a low 2.50. Not a strikeout pitcher, O’Hara has used his defense to get him out of jams. Without any chance for a playoff bid, Hamilton will play the rest of the season for seniors such as O’Hara in this upcoming series. In his last season on the bump, the senior looks to continue his success in his final NESCAC weekend start.
Amherst @ Wesleyan
Amherst: Zach Horwitz ‘20
Amherst is currently tied for first in the tough NESCAC West Division and can claim sole position of the one-seed with a sweep of Wesleyan. However, if they are swept, the team loses any shot of a bid and eliminated from contention. And the key player for this team is a freshman. Horwitz, despite being a rookie, has stepped up this year for Amherst. The team was looking for arms after successful veteran Jackson Volle ’17 and Horwitz did just that. Having pitched 26 innings (second to Volle), Horwitz has gone 2-0 in two starts with nine total appearances. The lefty has gained the trust of Coach Hamm, who will need him in this crucial weekend. Horwitz has done more than just pitch though. Also a first baseman, he has compiled 30 at bats and including a homerun and a triple. The rookie has proven he can contribute to the team in multiple ways, all of which will be needed this weekend. Horwitz’s success can drive this Amherst team right into the postseason.
Wesleyan: Matt Jeye ‘18
Wesleyan’s offense has failed to live up to expectations this season. After dominating NESCAC pitchers last season and returning key bats, the Cardinals have only hit .283 this spring. However, Matt Jeye ’18 has consistently given power to the heart of the lineup. In 102 at bats so far, Jeye leads the team in both triples and homeruns. His homerun total is second among NESCAC hitters. However, what stands out most is Jeye’s ability to knock in runs. His total of 28 RBI’s is team leading by 8 and 3rd in the conference. Pitchers must be careful with Jeye at the plate as he easily has the power to get in scoring position or send home a run. The outfielder has accumulated 32 hits total which gives him an average of .314. His slugging percentage has risen to .480. Wesleyan needs to win the series this weekend to still have a chance to earn a postseason spot. To do so, the Cardinals will have to rely on Jeye’s bat to lead the offense against a tough Amherst squad.
Spring has officially sprung in the NESCAC. Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and first years are fruitlessly flirting during pickup ultimate frisbee games. Alongside all these markers of spring is our favorite one; NESCAC baseball league play. With a couple league weekends under out belts, we can see certain patterns emerging. Tufts has only furthered their status as the cream of the crop, but there is an interesting battle going on for the second slot between Williams, Wesleyan, and the upstart Bates Bobcats. Get the lowdown on these storylines and more in the first baseball Power Rankings of the year.
1: Tufts (16-2, 2-1):
The Jumbos have done little to remove themselves from their preseason number one spot. They are one of the most volatile offenses in recent NESCAC memory, averaging an absoultely ridiculous 11.1 runs per game. They are led on offense by junior infielder Nick Falkson ‘17, who is leading the league in hits with 27 and strokes the ball at a .443 clip. He also is second in the league in RBI with 19 already. The Jumbos have also received great contributions from versatile sophomore Casey Santos-Ocampo ‘19, who has driven in 18 runs and reaches base at a .500 clip. Tufts has standout pitchers as well. Speros Varinos ‘17 has been the best pitcher in the league this year, with a 1.36 ERA and a 5-0 record, and the shockingly handsome Rory Ziomek ‘17 has been the heart and soul of the bullpen. And as if that wasn’t enough, they have also only made 21 errors in 18 games, second best in the league. Tufts dropped a sloppy game two weekends ago to Trinity, but they are still the class of the league.
2: Wesleyan (13-7, 4-1)
Casual baseball fans may not know this, but it is very difficult for an offense to score if they don’t hit the ball. And above all else, Wesleyan excels at preventing opponents from hitting the ball. Their pitching staff is second in the conference (to Tufts) in strikeouts per nine innings at 7.58. This helps them overcome a mediocre team ERA (4.26,), and suggests that the staff has the potential to tighten up once league play heats up. They are also second in the league in fielding percentage, again to Tufts. The Cardinals this past weekend swept Williams in a double header, taking advantage of some very shoddy work on the mound and in the field by the Ephs to come from behind in both games. There was certainly some luck involved in Wesleyan’s victories over Williams, but they are still impressive.
3: Bates (10-5, 6-0)
A six game winning streak in league play is nothing to ignore, even though the Bobcats haven’t played any of the other top five teams. The Bobcats have been achieving this success largely on the mound. Although Tufts’ staff has been more dominant in terms of strikeouts (leading the league at 142,) Bates has excelled in not giving up runs (another crucial aspect of baseball, I’m told.) The Bobcats lead the league in total ERA at 3.06, and in league play that number drops to a miniscule 2.47. They are led on the mound by the terrifically named Connor Speed ‘18, who boasts a 2.20 ERA, and several other members of their staff are under 3.00. Bates’ great pitching has allowed them to overcome a mediocre offense (.253 on the year and eight in the league in runs.) Of course, they also have swept the two worst offenses in the league in Colby and Bowdoin (ninth and tenth in the league in runs.) Bates still needs to prove that their pitching can hold up against better competition, but as of right now, consider the rest of the league on notice.
4: Williams (10-4, 4-2)
After sweeping Middlebury in Arizona and rolling off an impressive eight-game winning streak, Williams’ flaws reared their ugly head in a double header against Wesleyan. In both games of the double header, Williams blew leads in the later innings due to a lack of control from pitchers in the bullpen. The Eph’s offense has been firing on all cylinders in their six league games, due mostly to their shellacking of Middlebury earlier this year. They have averaged nearly 10 runs per game, and sophomore infielder Kellen Hatheway ‘19 would right now be the leadoff hitter on the All-League Team (.463 batting average and a 1.175 OPS.) And Williams got a huge pitching performance in the third game of the Wesleyan series from freshman star John Lamont ‘20. Lamont threw a complete game, giving up just one run and striking out 15 Cardinals to give Williams a crucial win. Lamont and Hatheway are young stars for the Ephs, but they need to find some consistency at the back end of their bullpen if they want to compete for a championship this year.
5: Trinity (12-9, 3-3)
The Bantams are one of the most well rounded offenses in the league, averaging over 8 runs per game. They have several standout hitters, including our own Nick Dibenedetto, who strokes the ball at a .396 clip and sits at fifth in the league in OBP. However, the Bantams lack of power has hurt them at times. Their slugging percentage as a team is only .404, and they only have five home runs. As a result, their offense can be held in check more easily than other elite offenses that have more power, like Tufts or Williams. And unlike the teams higher on this list, Trinity simply does not have the pitching to make up for any offensive struggles. They have given up the most runs in the league (181) and surrendered 8 home runs, also the most in the league. There are a lot of things to like about Trinity’s squad, but one of their deficiencies will have to improve if they want to climb out of the middle of the pack.
6: Middlebury (2-4, 6-9)
In the interest of full disclosure, it feels very good to be writing about Middlebury this high in the rankings. In the first year of coach Mike Leonard’s tenure, the Panthers have shown marked improvement over the teams of the past few seasons. This improvement has been primarily on the offensive end. The team has struck out the second fewest times of any team in the league, pointing to improved discipline and focus. Senior Captain Jason Lock ‘17 is one of the front runners for POY (.443/.493/.656 splits,) and along with Ryan Rizzo ‘17 has provided valuable senior leadership for an otherwise very young team. A large focus of the Panthers season so far has been giving talented freshman like OF Justin Han ‘20 and IF Andrew Hennings ‘20 (1.143 OPS!) chances to play, and the team has taken some lumps as a result. Defense has been a major struggle for the Panthers. They have made 34 errors in just 16 games, many of those the product of shifting different players into new positions to see where they best fit. Middlebury may not be a playoff threat this year, but for the first time in a few years they’re on the right track.
7: Amherst (6-10, 1-2)
Amherst and Middlebury share a lot of similarities. They both have very good offenses, but have been dragged down by subpar pitching and defense. Amherst is led on offense by the best keystone combo in the league in second baseman Max Steinhorn ‘18 (.381/.444/.412) and shortstop (and ANOTHER NbN staff writer) Harry Roberson ‘18 (.377/.414/.656.) Amherst hits a .342 overall on the year, but in their first league series against Middlebury they struggled. They only scored nine runs in three games, and Middlebury’s pitching staff isn’t exactly the 1998 Atlanta Braves (6.19 ERA.) Indeed, the only team in the league with a lower ERA than Middlebury is, you guessed it, Amherst at 6.63. Amherst’s ERA is that low despite boasting the individual third best ERA in the league (Jackson Volle ‘18 at 1.53) If Amherst’s offense is going to falter as league play progresses, their pitching and defense could lead them down a very dark path this season.
8: Hamilton (10-9, 0-2)
In a departure from the normal lower tier NESCAC team recipe, Hamilton has pretty good pitching but often struggles to score runs. Senior pitcher Finley O’Hara ‘17 is the league leader in ERA at 1.13, and his versatility allows him to plug holes deeper down in the rotation. Following O’Hara is junior starter Dan DePaoli ‘18, who boasts a 1.66 ERA and has struck out 23 batters in 21 innings. However, Hamilton as a team has only scored 98 runs in 19 games, and only four runs in two games against Wesleyan in their opening league series.
9: Colby (5-14, 1-5)
Ironically, the Mules could use a little more kick, particularly on offense. Colby hits .264 as a team, not stellar but not embarrassing either. But they only slug .321, and have the same number of home runs as I do. It’s hard to win games when you have to scrape together every run, and that’s the way Colby plays. Ther pitching and defense are middle of the pack, and therefore not good enough to make up for their low scoring style. Colby will play in a lot of close games this year, but seem to lack the ability to break one open with a big hit.
10: Bowdoin (7-12, 0-3)
As much as Hamilton struggles on offense, Bowdoin makes them look like a team full of Pablo Sanchezes. The Polar Bears only bat .246 as a team, and were shut out twice by Hamilton and lost three in a row to Bates, scoring just eight runs in those three games. They don’t pitch particularly well either, with a 4.67 team ERA, but it’s hard for pitchers to relax when they have such little offensive support. Junior starter Max Vogel-Freedman is a bonafide ace with a 2.29 ERA and just four walks in 19 innings, but aside from him, Bowdoin has very little firepower offensively or pitching-wise. On a more positive note, they are very good defensively, with only 19 errors in 23 games. This discipline means that if they can get in even a little groove offensively, they could grab some wins against teams that aren’t as polished in the field, such as Middlebury and Amherst.
Editor’s Note: At this point, pretty much every NESCAC baseball team has had a chance to get out on the field and play some games (aside from Williams, who plays their season opener tonight). Devin Rosen is joining us for our NESCAC baseball coverage this spring, which is perfectly timed since we lose a couple writers, Colby and Rory, due to their roles on the Middlebury and Tufts baseball teams. The beginning of the NESCAC baseball season is always a mess for coverage since teams always try to cram as many games as possible into their spring breaks. Once NESCAC games roll around, we will be much more organized with our content. Until then, enjoy this preview of the NESCAC baseball season that Devin put together!
Bates opens the season with new coach Jon Martin who comes from the head coaching position at Vassar College. He looks to turn last year’s 14-21 record (4-8 in conference) into a more productive season in 2017. Helping his transition at the leadership helm are senior captains Ryan McCarthy and Brendan Fox. McCarthy has been a three year starter in the outfield for the Bobcats, and 2016 Second-Team All-NESCAC shortstop Fox looks to continue his success after hitting .377 last season. The Bates rotation and bullpen returns most of its staff and is led by Connor Speed ‘18 who looks to open the season as Bates’ number one starter. Anthony Telesca ’17 adds to the returning rotation as well providing depth in the rotation. After a break out year last season, Connor Russell ‘18 aims to round out the Bates rotation. The strong core of returning players for Bates gives the Bobcats the potential to put up a strong fight in the NESCAC this year. In his first season in Lewiston, Coach Martin will have to use his returners to help him achieve a successful season. If Fox can lead the bats, then the solid pitching staff can keep Bates in contention in the competitive NESCAC East.
Bowdoin had a decently successful 22-14 campaign last spring, but looks to avenge their 4-8 in conference record this season. To do so, however, their pitching staff must fill in the spots of two now-graduated starters who combined for over 93 innings last season. Sophomore Brandon Lopez ’19 looks to be the number one guy for the polar bears after a solid freshman season as a starter. After him, however, it seems that Coach Mike Connolly will have to find a few arms out of the large junior class to eat up innings. Sean Mullaney ’17 aims to maintain his position as the team’s consistent top hitter after having a .304 average in 115 at bats last spring. Similar to the pitching staff, the young talent on this offense will have to step up in order to compete with the rest of the NESCAC. Bowdoin showed promise in their overall record last year and aims to replicate it both in and out of conference.
Colby looks to turn their luck around after a disappointing season last spring. This task is made even tougher after graduating a First-Team All-NESCAC first baseman, Soren Hanson ’16, and a Second-Team All-NESCAC third baseman, Zach Ellenthal ‘16. Sophomore Andrew Currier looks to lead the way in doing so after posting a solid freshman spring which included 20 RBIs. The rest of the lineup will depend on hitting from other lower classmen. On the mound, the Mules graduated their number one starter, Hanson, and most reliable reliever, Tommy Forese. However, just like the lineup, young pitchers such as Brooks Parker ’19 and Will Cohen ’19 gained valuable experience in just their first spring. Look for Coach Dale Plummer to ride these young arms throughout the season while also depending on the more experienced juniors Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Bobby Forese ‘18. Colby’s lineup and pitching staff took a hit from the most recent graduating class, but look for the young Mules to step up their game. Despite a smaller presence from the senior class, the underclassmen have the potential to compete with the top teams in the NESCAC after gaining a year of valuable experience.
Trinity enters the season having lost high caliber seniors from last spring including First-Team All-NESCAC catcher Scott Cullinane and Second-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Nick Pezzella, as well as their most reliable reliever Sam Jordan, all of whom contributed to a 7-5 conference record. The Bantams’ success in the NESCAC East earned them a playoff appearance, and they advanced to the NESCAC Championship game before losing to in-conference rival Tufts. Despite the talent lost, first baseman Johnny Stamatis ’19 is back after hitting .309 and earning a Second-Team All-NESCAC nod in his first college season. Another key returning bat is NbN writer and Trinity infielder Nick DiBenedetto ’17, who posted a .357 average last spring. On the other side of the roster stands Anthony Egeln Jr. ’18. He is the only returning consistent starter, but after posting a 4-2 record last spring, Egeln Jr looks to take over as the number one starter in the program. In order to keep up with the tough NESCAC East, Trinity’s young talent must replace last year’s seniors with some fluidity. The rotation’s consistency will make or break Trinity’s season as long as their bats heat up.
The Jumbos are coming off a dominating performance after achieving the best season in school history. With an 11-1 in-conference record and 35-8 overall record, Tufts returns the core of its team. 2x First-Team All-NESCAC third baseman Tommy O’Hara ‘18 leads this stacked line-up along with captain First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Harry Brown ‘17, who hit a team leading .397 average in 2016. Behind the plate, sophomore catchers Harrison Frickman and Eric Schnepf have a year under their belt after being thrusted into a timeshare of the starting role behind the plate as freshmen last season. In addition to a powerful line-up, Tufts returns most of its dominating pitching staff. Led by captains Speros Varinos ’17 and Tim Superko ‘17, the rotation looks to remain the best in the conference after posting a team ERA of 3.25, over a full run less per game than the second-best ERA in the league. Varinos, the reigning pitcher of the year, looks to best last year’s All-American performance, which included a 2.15 ERA and league-leading 79 strikeouts. He also tied fellow teammate, RJ Hall ’19 with a league-leading 7 wins. Additionally, our very own, Rory Ziomek adds depth to the staff. Tufts has the fire power to maintain their status as the best team in the league, and has their sights set on not only a NESCAC Championship, but a NCAA Regional Championship as well after coming up just short last spring.
Amherst looks to stay atop the NESCAC West this upcoming season, and the will jump on the back of First-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Jackson Volle ‘17, who had a league leading 1.79 ERA. The pitching staff aims to maintain its status as one of the best in the league, but we will have to wait to see who joins Volle atop the staff after losing a few arms to graduation. At the plate, Amherst returns two Second-Team All-NESCAC selections: shortstop Harry Roberson ’18 and outfielder Anthony Spina ‘17. Roberson had an impressive .336 average while Spina tied the league lead in homeruns with 6. Joining them in this impressive lineup are Ariel Kenney ‘18, who had a team leading 52 hits, and infielder Max Steinhorn ‘18. Outfielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 rounds out the lineup that hit a remarkable .316 as a group last year. Amherst has the potential to not only compete in the NESCAC, but to compete for its top spot. Volle gives them a consistently dominant starter while their lineup can hit any arm in the league. If Amherst plays up to their potential, look for them to stay atop the Conference.
Hamilton’s ferocious lineup from last season returns its top hitters, including First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, who led the conference in slugging percentage (.645) to go along with a .418 batting average. Adding even more power to the lineup is Andrew Haser ’17, who was tied for the league lead with 6 homeruns last spring. The Hamilton pitching staff is forced to replace now-graduated pitcher Cole Dreyfuss, and first in line to do so are Spencer Vogelbach ‘18 and Dan DePaoli ’18. Look for these two juniors to eat up significant innings for Coach Byrnes. Rounding out the staff is Max Jones ’19, who threw 35.2 innings with a 3.53 ERA in his freshman campaign. Hamilton’s success will depend on its lineup and rotation performing up to their potential. The experienced pitching staff will have the chance to prove they can compete with the best of the NESCAC, and the returning Continental bats have the power to hit any arm in the league. If this occurs, Hamilton will be considered a force to be reckoned with in the competitive NESCAC West.
Middlebury enters the year looking to replace its key seniors from last season. However, plenty of now-sophomores including OF Sam Graf and SS Spencer Tonies, now have a year of experience to potentially improve their campaign from last season. Junior Brendan Donohue will also look to build off his .316 season in contribution to the Panthers season. Pitching, on the other hand, seems to be a plus for the Panthers both now and in the future. Sophomore starters Colby Morris (legendary NbN writer) and John Bunting led the team in innings last season, but with Bunting having transferred, Morris will be looked to to handle even more of the load. Seniors Dylan Takamori and Tucker Meredith additionally look to contribute to the strong staff. Last season Middlebury had a 6-6 in-conference record and aims to stand over .500 this season. To do so, Coach Mike Leonard will have to depend on his pitching staff, comprised of mostly returners. If the Panther bats can stay consistent, the rotation and bullpen can keep Middlebury relevant in the NESCAC West.
The Cardinals look to repeat last year’s impressive 23-12 record along with winning the NESCAC West. Despite losing three senior bats hitting over .330, including the Player of the Year Marco Baratta, Wesleyan returns a dangerous lineup. Leading the way are two-way player Nick Miceli ’17, who is coming off a Second-Team All-NESCAC performance, and the Roxbury Latin groomed shortstop Will O’Sullivan, who hit a remarkable .370 last spring. Andrew Keith ‘19 proved his potential last season as well and looks to build on the success he enjoyed in 2016. On the mound, Wesleyan returns a solid core of three pitchers, including Miceli, who is joined by Ethan Rode ‘17 and Asher Young ‘17. These seasoned veterans should consume many of the season’s innings. Coach Mark Woodworth will ride his senior leaders throughout the season after they dominated the NESCAC West last spring. As long as his upperclassmen take charge, Wesleyan has the lineup and the rotation to compete for the NESCAC crown.
Williams aims to get over the .500 hump in NESCAC play this season, and if they do it, their efforts will be led by Second-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Luke Rodino ‘17. He is joined by fellow senior Tyler Duff ’17 as the leaders of the pitching staff. These two seniors look to guide Tom Benz ‘19, Jack Bohen ‘19 and Will O’Brien ‘19, all of whom contributed heavily during their freshman campaign. At the plate, Kellen Hatheway ’19 looks to build on a stellar first year in which he earned the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award after hitting .331 with 21 RBI’s and 24 runs scored. Joining him in the lineup are Adam Regensburg ’18 and Doug Schaffer ’18, as well as Jack Cloud ‘17, who all hit over .300. The freshmen, now sophomore class proved to have the potential to compete against the top teams in the NESCAC. This year for Williams baseball will be about how these sophomores, along with their other key returners, can perform after having last season to rebuild and come together as a group. Williams will use last year’s experience to give them a chance to improve on their record in the NESCAC.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Bates—Sunday 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)
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.
I have been somewhat out of the loop during the beginning of the NESCAC baseball season because I was traveling for school, and so I have been unable to write anything recently. I want to thank Kaitlin McCabe who has taken on the lion’s share of writing to make up for my deficiencies. For the rest of the spring, you can expect at least one article a week from both Kaitlin and me, if not more.
Alright, onto baseball now. Conventional wisdom entering the year was that despite heavy losses, the trio of Wesleyan, Amherst and Tufts remained the class of the league. Those three teams have dominated the NESCAC the past couple of years. There has been nothing in the early portion of the year to suggest that those three are going to experience a huge drop off. Wesleyan is 10-3 behind a powerful lineup that is averaging better than 10 runs per game. Amherst is 9-2 because of their strong rotation. Tufts is 6-3, and two of those losses are by a single run.
Bowdoin and Hamilton have been early surprises, but it is way too early to put too much into their success. At this point, every team except for Middlebury and Williams has completed their spring break trip and has returned to the norther hinterlands of New England. That pretty much sums things up, right? Well no, not really. Let’s dive in a little deeper.
Bowdoin’s Youth Movement
Forget the loss of ace Henry Van Zant ’15 from the rotation, Bowdoin’s biggest hole entering the season was the need to replace the majority of their lineup. Seven of the 10 players with the most plate appearances on the team in 2015 have graduated. What remained was Chad Martin ’16, Peter Cimini ’16, Sean Mullaney ’17 and a whole lot of question marks. Again, it’s early, but the offense has been pretty decent even as Martin has had a slow start. The Polar Bears rank near the bottom of the league in OBP, AVG, SLG, and runs scored, but honestly that is better than I thought they would be at this point. Now, the question is whether hot starts for guys like Luke Cappellano ’19 (.381/.435/.476) and Sawyer Billings ’18 (.455/.500/.636) mean anything or if they are the result of a small sample size. Also, the unconscious hitting of Sean Mullaney, owner of a .588 OBP so far, is unlikely to continue at quite the same astronomic levels. Manager Mike Connolly always plays a lot of guys during the Florida trip, and so some of the spots are still being played out.
Bates Pitchers Named Connor
The duo of Connor Speed ’18 and Connor Colombo ’16 has anchored the rotation thus far, starting a combined eight of the 14 games for Bates. The two are pretty much picking up from where they ended last season as the two pitchers with the most IP on Bates. Speed’s numbers are almost exactly the same from a year ago. While a 3.63 ERA isn’t anything spectacular, Speed has upped his K rate to 9.67 K/9, a close to elite level. Even better is Speed’s 24:4 K:BB ratio so far. Colombo has a gaudy ERA of 1.74, but that is a little misleading since nine of his 13 runs allowed have been unearned. Together with Anthony Telesca ’17, the Bobcats have a weekend rotation pretty much set, and they can also bring talented reliever Rob DiFranco ’16 out of the bullpen.
Wesleyan Outfielder Marco Baratta ’16
It is going to be a theme for us to talk about Wesleyan players that are stepping up from last season to keep the Cardinals great. Last week it was Nick Miceli ’17, and now it’s Baratta, the transfer from Skidmore. Baratta only gained consistent playing time at the very end of 2015, but he has been a stud so far this year. The slashline is impressive obviously at .438/.558/.813. That slugging percentage is tops in the NESCAC, and it’s because he has 11 extra base hits, including two homers. He has a hit in 12 of the 13 games Wesleyan has played so far, and he has reached base in every single one. That type of production is one of the reasons why the Wesleyan offense is better so far than a year ago, despite the loss of some big pieces. The only downside is his K rate of 29.2 percent, a number that could mean a drop in production is on the horizon.
It feels like a yearly tradition at this point for me to write about how Williams has talent but they can’t get over their Achilles heel of bad pitching. Things are no different in 2016. The team ERA for the Ephs is 10.97, a terrible number. To be fair, Tucson, Arizona is where Division-III ERAs go to die, but still. I think even more damning is that in their nine games this year, Williams has allowed six runs or more in every game. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense. The Ephs got two wins yesterday, but they came with scores of 12-11 and 9-8. Another thing that really worries me is the team’s K/9 rate is a measly 4.19, easily the lowest in the league. That means that their pitchers aren’t missing many bats, and no pitcher has been a standout in that area at all. One of the positives is that Luke Rodino ’17 has pitched reasonably well in his two starts and has a 3.86 ERA. He emerged as the best pitcher on Williams down the stretch last year, and he gives Williams at least one pitcher they can start to build with.
Middlebury Team Speed
Middlebury has played six games so far. Their steal total as a team: a big fat zero. Twice the Panthers have attempted to steal a base, but both times that ended with them being gunned down. To not steal a base over a few games is not that unusual, but to have no steals through six games is a tad disconcerting. It also makes me wonder if it’s just something in that Vermont water that slows them down. Now the question is, when does Middlebury finally steal a base, and who does it? Keep in mind that last year they had only seven steals all season and nobody had more than two individually. My money would be on Ryan Rizzo ’17 usually, but he is also coming back from a football knee injury and may be unwilling to test it too much. The Panthers have five games left in Arizona. Let’s hope that they get at least one by then.
Before diving into a somewhat amended weekend preview, I wanted to get a couple of thoughts out there that have nothing in common with each other. Also a note on the relative down tick in articles this spring: things come up (schoolwork mostly, nothing serious) and so I have written less. Apologies, and we want to thank everybody for sticking with us this spring.
1. Tufts loves to get hit by pitches: One of the few statistics I don’t keep track of really is HBP, but it really is a skill for hitters. The Jumbos excel at it with five of the top-six most-struck players hailing from Medford. As a unit, Tufts has been hit by a pitch 82 times; Bates is the next highest at 49. What we have heard is that this fits into a more general strategy for Tufts where they tend to crowd the plate and hit the ball the other way a lot. Considering that this year will be the seventh consecutive when they lead the NESCAC in that category, it certainly makes a lot of sense.
2. Mike Odenwaelder has a shot at 100 Total Bases: Getting to the century mark is something that no NESCAC player has done since 2010 when three players broke the mark. They must have been juicing the balls or something because Trinity’s James Wood hit 13 homers but didn’t even lead the league in that category because Noah Lynd hit 15 for Bates. These were, of course, the BESR days as well. Ah, the good old days… It’s actually worth it to take a trip down the rabbit hole and look at the NESCAC Statistics Page from that year. Anyway, Odenwaelder leads the league with 78 right now through 29 games (2.69 per game). Amherst has five games left in the regular season, and then there is the NESCAC tournament and potentially the NCAA tournament as well. At his current pace he needs 8.2 games to reach 100. It could be tight.
3. Two Freshmen on Bowdoin are named Max Vogel: Alright, so one is named Max Vogel and the other is Max Vogel-Freedman, but still pretty crazy right? We haven’t been able to figure out the exact story behind it, but you should know that both are capable ballplayers deserving of their spots on the team. One can imagine that it can be difficult for the coaching staff to talk to them. Also, one is a catcher and the other is a pitcher. I for one am rooting whole-heartedly for a Max Vogel-only battery someday.
4. Amherst gets caught stealing a lot: The generally accepted breakeven success rate for stealing bases is about 75 percent according to Fangraphs.com. Most teams are well above that success rate. Middlebury has the best success rate (7-8), but they hardly ever steal so they’re not a great example. But the Jeffs are an outlier. They are third in the league with 48 stolen bases, but where they blow everyone away is in the caught stealing department. They have been caught stealing 23 times. No other team has been caught more than nine times! A good amount of those caught stealings come from early in the season which is probably the Jeffs just testing if different guys can steal, but that still doesn’t account for the whole difference.
Only one series matters this weekend: Trinity at Bates to decide the second playoff spot in the East. The rest of the games are basically white noise that could tell us which players are doing well and which are struggling, but they don’t matter much in the big picture of things. Just to lay it out for you: Bowdoin is 6-6, both Trinity and Bates are 4-5. Trinity gets into the playoffs if they win two or all three games, Bates gets in if they take all three, and Bowdoin gets in if Bates takes two of three. Bad news for Bowdoin is that no matter the outcome of the first two games, either Bates or Trinity will enter the final game already eliminated.
The Bantams have leaned on their starting pitching to get into this position, but Robinson does not have a win in conference play. He owns a 4.74 ERA in conference play but has a 2.41 ERA over the course of the year. Now is the perfect time for Robinson to come up big and go deep into a game for Trinity. He has never pitched against Bates which gives him a major advantage early in the game as they try to figure out his stuff. Robinson should also eschew from chasing strikeouts and focus on pounding the zone. Six of his nine walks on the season have come in his conference starts, and he has also had more strikeouts in those starts. Better for him to keep things simple and rely on his defense.
Bates X-Factor: Third Baseman Sam Berry ’15
The senior Berry has been far and away Bates’ best hitter in conference play. He is hitting .447 and has an astronomic .816 slugging percentage. He has hit safely in his last 14 games, and half of those games have been multiple hit performances. Just last weekend against Tuft he went off and had three home runs. He and Nate Pajka ’15 supply the vast majority of the power in the middle of the lineup. The guys in front of him need to get on base and force Trinity to pitch to Berry, who is one of the hottest hitters in the league right now.
Friday 3:00 PM: Jed Robinson ’16 (Trinity) vs. Connor Colombo ’16 (Bates).
Saturday 12:00 PM: Sean Meekins ’15 (Trinity) vs. Connor Speed ’18 (Bates).
Saturday 2:30 PM: Nick Fusco ’18 (Trinity) vs. Will Levangie ’15 (Bates)
Expect a playoff atmosphere at Bates with a larger than normal crowd because Bates students are on their ‘short term’ and have minimal class commitments at the moment. That should make it a fun one to watch.
The pitching matchups in this one carry a good amount of uncertainty. Both teams will start one freshman in a big spot. Both managers will also be ready to pull one of the starters early at the first sign of trouble. In this respect Trinity might have a slight advantage because Bates was forced to pitch some of their relievers in their loss to Bowdoin on Tuesday. The advantage is pretty minimal, mind you. We have talked before of how important Sean Meekins ’15 has been for Trinity, and Connor Colombo ’16 has been of similar importance for Bates.
The Trinity offense is certainly not what one would call dynamic, but they have come through with a lot of big hits. Having Brendan Pierce ’18 back in the lineup after he had to miss five games for a suspension is big for them. He is really the only player who can say they have hit particularly well as the team has only a .244 average in conference games.
The outcome of this series will probably rest on the shoulders of the Bates offense. Even though the Bates pitching might be shaky, Trinity is not going to blow anybody out. They have not scored double digits in a game all season. Bates needs to be able to get at the starter quickly and force the Bantams into their bullpen early. The Bobcats are a patient team overall but they can’t simply wear down the Trinity starters. Rockwell Jackson ’15 at the top of the lineup has to get on early and often. Winning all three games is not going to be easy for the Bobcats.
Somewhat hard to believe that the Bantams simply need to win this series in order to make the playoffs. They were 2-5 after dropping their opening game to Bowdoin, but the morass in the East has made it possible. I don’t think this will be the prettiest series to watch, but the end result is that one team will be celebrating a playoff berth.
Prediction: Trinity wins two of three and makes the playoffs.
Bates has already played seven games so we know something about them already. The most important thing we have learned thus far is that Nate Pajka ’15 is mashing baseballs. He has a .1000 slugging percentage in large part because he already has four home runs. Pajka will need to continue hitting like that as Bates is replacing both boppers Griff Tewksbury ’14 and Kevin Davis ’14. Those two were far and away Bates’ best two hitters a year ago. However, so far the Bobcats have hit much better as a team than they did a year ago. Besides Pajka, Evan Czopek ’16 has shown massive improvement after hitting only .265 in 2014. It is unusual to see a first baseman leading off, but Rockwell Jackson ’15 is a converted outfielder. Bates had the second most walks of anybody in the NESCAC a season ago, and they will again rely on a patient approach at the plate.
One of the biggest reasons for Bates making a run into the playoffs after a shaky start to the season was how their defense improved as the season went along. Even though they finished the season with 63 errors, third most in the NESCAC, they had only 15 errors in conference which was the third lowest mark. Though Bates will miss Davis’ bat, they won’t miss his 14 errors that he had in the field ago. Sam Berry ’15 will be an improvement at third base. Shortstop Brendan Fox ’17 has struggled somewhat early on with five errors already this season, but he was pretty sure-handed in 2014. Expect this defense to resemble the one from the end of the season and be a big positive behind the pitching staff.
The loss of Brad Reynolds ’14 and Chris Fusco ’14 to graduation is a lot. Reynolds practically dragged the Bobcats to the postseason as he finished the season with a 2.20 ERA in 61.1 IP. Fusco was not a great pitcher always, but he ate up a lot of innings. Will Levangie ’15 is the only returning starter, but he doesn’t scream ace because of his average K/9 ratio. Rob DiFranco ’16 is making the transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation and has looked good in his two starts thus far. The third spot is still somewhat up in the air, though Connor Speed ’18 looks like he has grabbed it for now. Sam Warren ’16 will also be in the mix for that third spot. Bates relied a lot on their bullpen a year ago meaning a bunch of guys pitched between 20 and 10 innings. Guys like Marc Cunningham ’16 and Connor Colombo ’16 have a tall task in replacing DiFranco in the pen.
Storylines to Watch
1. How many players make a big leap forward?
Bates lost their three bona fide stars (Davis, Tewksbury, and Reynolds) who were a huge reason for their surprise run in the East. Now a lot of players capable of breaking out remain on the roster. The Bobcats need to have a few players show remarkable year-to-year improvement in order to succeed. As noted above, Pajka appears to be in the midst of a big season, and Czopek is also smashing the ball to the tune of a .464 average thus far. A couple of other players are off to great starts as well. However, the team overall is hitting .337, an impossible pace to keep up. It is possible that a good amount of their stats are inflated by weak pitching. On the rotation end of things, a few guys could go a long way in replacing Reynolds, and the guy below is probably the most likely to come close.
2. Can Rob DiFranco ’16 adjust to starting?
DiFranco flashed his potential as a reliever last spring in large part because of his 12.15 K/9 ratio. Then he delivered a stellar summer season for the North Shore Navigators in the Futures League. He appeared in 22 games and posted a .095 ERA in 33.2 innings while walking only three batters. He ended up being voted the Navigators Player of the Year for his performance. Now he is being asked to move to the rotation. I think he will make the transition much more easily than Big League flame-outs Joba Chamberlain and Daniel Bard, the first reliever-turned-starters that come to mind. Still, he will have to adjust and learn how to pitch against batters when they come up in the order for the second or third time. Pounding the zone like he did this summer is a good place to start of course.
3. Will their unique schedule hurt them?
Because of the Bates academic calendar, the Bobcats start their season well before everybody else with a trip to California in mid-February. They just played their first game back north on Monday, and three games remain on the schedule before they open the NESCAC schedule with Trinity. Weather might end up impacting one or more of those three games. At best Bates will play four games in the month between their trip and their games against Trinity. That means their hitters will not have seen much live pitching during that time. While you can simulate at-bats in practice as much as you like, game at-bats are impossible to recreate perfectly. Of course, Bates, in their first live action in more than 20 days, put up 16 runs on Monday against MIT so maybe it won’t affect them at all.
Biggest Series: April 24-25 at Tufts
Bates plays the East favorites in the final weekend of NESCAC play, and chances are that the second spot will still be very much up in the air at that point. Playing Tufts last is not likely to help Bates much as the Jumbos will still play their regular starters, but even so the Bobcats should be playing with a lot more urgency than the Jumbos.