Coaches Come and Coaches Go: Middlebury vs Bates Playoff Preview

Overview:

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

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

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

(Likely) Pitching Matchup:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts:

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

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

Prediction:

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

Middlebury 3 – Bates 1

The Chosen Few: NbN’s Regular Season Awards Ballot

As we not-so-patiently await this weekend’s playoff games, it’s time to hand out some regular season hardware. This was a particularly fun year in NESCAC baseball. In Tufts we had a juggernaut dominate the regular season in a way not seen in several years. We had Bates’ insanely hot 7-0 start to league play, followed by an insanely cold 0-5 finish. Williams made a furious run at their playoff spot, but to no avail. And on the other side of the conference, we saw a real-life Cinderella story unfold before our eyes, as Middlebury rose from years of mediocrity to become a real championship contender. We will see how those storylines shift come this weekend. In the meantime, let’s recognize the top regular season performers in the award categories. As always, these are our opinions, so we welcome and expect criticism from all sides. We also urge you to check out the midseason awards article here for more info on most of these candidates.

Player of the Year

Yanni Thanopoulos

Winner: Amherst OF Yanni Thanopolous ‘17 (.429/.473/.529, 57 H, 37 RBI)

There are several players who could win this award. Tufts alone has three players who have the stats to contend for it in Nick Falkson ‘18, Tommy O’Hara ‘18 and Will Shackelford ‘19. However, it is precisely that lineup strength that keeps them from winning this award. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around any of those players because the rest of the lineup is so dangerous. This award is better suited for a player who dominates despite a lesser supporting cast. Enter Thanopolous. Not to diss the rest of the Amherst lineup (NbN’s own Harry Roberson ‘18 excels as a table setter at the top of the order.) But Thanopolous’ run producing is the key to Amherst’s lineup. Additionally, Amherst’s pitching has struggled mightily for most of the season. Without a strong lineup, Amherst would not even be a playoff contender, and Thanopolous is the engine that makes it all run.

Tommy O'Hara

Runner-Up: Tufts IF Tommy O’Hara ‘18 (.343/.503/.528, 4 HR, 35 RBI)

 

 

Jason Lock

Runner-Up: Middlebury 1B Jason Lock ‘17 (.389/.455/.549, 30 RBI 13:6 BB/K)

 

 

Pitcher of the Year

Speros Varinos

Winner: Tufts SP Speros Varinos ‘17 (8-1, 1.60 ERA, 68 SO, 9 BB)

Unlike the Player of the Year award, this race has never been close. Varinos has dominated the league as much as any NESCAC pitcher in recent memory. He struck out double digit hitters three times in his nine starts, and the only blemish on his won-loss record came in his last start, a meaningless non-league matchup against Middlebury. Varinos combined with Tim Superko ‘17 to form the most dynamic starting pitching duo in the league. However, Tufts as a team has struggled to find an effective third starter, and even Superko posted a 3.55 ERA this season. He benefitted a great deal from Tufts’ stellar offense to post his 6-0 record. Therefore, Varinos is the key to Tufts rotation, which will be the most important factor in the playoffs as they contend with Thanopolous and the rest of Amherst’s lineup.

Johnny LamontRunner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)

 

 

Erik MohlRunner-Up: Trinity P Eric Mohl ‘19 (16 APP, 7-2, 2.55 ERA)

 

 

 

Rookie of the Year

Justin Han

Winner: Middlebury OF Justin Han ‘20 (.308/.411/.490, 4 HR, 13:7 BB/K)

Middlebury is both one of the best teams in the league and maybe the youngest team, a testament to the recruiting of new HC Mike Leonard and his assistant Mike Phelps. And based on this season, Justin Han looks to be the biggest prize of that strong recruiting class. He showed tremendous power, finishing second in the league with four home runs. But the thing that sets Han apart from other first year players is his maturity. He only struck out seven times all year against thirteen walks. That kind of plate discipline is uncommon among any player, let alone a rookie. His stats were also better in the elevated competition of NESCAC play. In eleven league games, he hit .324 with two home runs and nine RBI, numbers that are better than his overall stats if you project them out to the same amount of games. Han also showed a clutch gene, hitting a game winning grand slam against Amherst to help Middlebury salvage a crucial game and avoid a sweep. With Han and his classmates, Middlebury is set up to be relevant for years to come.

Johnny LamontRunner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)

*Editor’s Note: We feel bad for Lamont here. Not only does he finish second in two awards, but he has to live with a dud of an older brother (former NbM editor Adam Lamont.) We regret adding salt to that wound, and hope John doesn’t resent it too much in the future.

Alex RodriquezRunner-Up: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.342/.361/.465 23 RBI)

The End Is Nigh: Power Rankings 4/27

Before we start these rankings, I just need to call everyone’s attention to Rory’s profile on the Tufts website.

“Listen to music” is a very original tradition! Rory is quirky like that

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.

Tufts

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

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.

Middlebury

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

Harry Roberson ’18 is an anchor in the infield for the Mammoths (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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.

Wesleyan

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

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.

Bowdoin

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.

Trinity

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

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.

Hamilton

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.

Merrily We Roll Along: Power Rankings 4/21


As we reach the final third of the season, a look at the NESCAC baseball landscape reveals the fierce competition throughout the conference. No team has locked up a bid and the final few weekend series’ hold more weight than ever before. Some teams are in must win situations with others have played themselves into good positions. This iteration of the Power Rankings shows movement from eight of the ten teams after a little over a week of games and a surprising weekend.

  1. Tufts

Despite a tough weekend for the Jumbos, Tufts still maintains its number one spot in the power rankings. A loss to 7-17 (2-7) Colby team brought this team back to reality after a scorching hot start including their run last season. However, still posting a 19-4-1 overall record and sitting in second place in the NESCAC East, Tufts has little reason to worry. Reigning NESCAC Pitcher of Year Speros Varinos ’17 is defending his title with an essentially perfect season thus far at 6-0 in 6 starts with a 1.50 ERA and league leading 46 strikeouts, 10 ahead of the next closest total. The lineup, hitting a combined .325, is led by Nick Falkson ’18, who is in the running for a title of his own – NESCAC Player of the Year. The infielder is hitting .402 and leading the league with 28 RBI’s. However, a crucial part of this lineup is filled with sophomores Casey Santos-Ocampo ’19 and Will Shackelford ’19 . Santos-Ocampo has provided clutch at bats and speed on the base paths, scoring 18 runs and knocking in 20 more. Shackelford has added a hot bat to his defensive soundness, hitting a phenomenal .434 with only 4 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. The Jumbos have a huge weekend series at home against Bowdoin, which could ultimately decide who makes the NESCAC playoffs, but as long as Tufts sticks to what they do best, they’ll be in a good spot heading forward toward the playoffs.

  1. Bates

Bates has been the San Antonio Spurs of the NESCAC so far this spring. They have no league leaders and no standout superstar, but are a fundamentally sound team. The Bobcats get the job done, which is why they jump to number two in this week’s power rankings. Holding Conference best 6-0 record, Bates has its eyes set on the playoffs. A convincing sweep of Bowdoin, in which the staff allowed only 8 runs total,

Connor Speed ’18 has carried an excellent Bates pitching staff this season.

proved that Bates is ready to compete with the higher echelon of the conference and make some noise in the postseason. The Bobcats will rely on their pitching staff to do so. With a league leading team ERA of 3.12 (2.47 in conference), this staff has to potential to shut down any offense in the league. Only giving up slightly over 3 runs a game has allowed the team to win 11 of 16 so far despite their struggling offense. However, these numbers come with a big asterisk, as their two series sweeps have come against weaker offenses in Colby and Bowdoin. Look for Connor Speed ’18 to lead the staff as the team aims to continue their dominance on the mound. For now though, Bates has put themselves in a good position for a postseason bid.

  1. Wesleyan

Wesleyan holds a slim .5 game lead in the West Division and are tasked with facing a hot Middlebury squad this weekend. So far this season has been not up to Wesleyan’s standards at the plate. Hitting a mediocre .291, the Cardinal bats look to heat up to their potential as the season progresses. Will O’Sullivan ’17 is starting the charge hitting an impressive .360 and team leading 8 doubles. Adding power to lineup is Junior Matt Jeye ’18 who is tied for the league lead with 3 homeruns. On the mound, the Cardinals have been consistent if anything as they have been racking up strikeouts. In conference, they strike out 7.30 batters per nine innings – nearly a strikeout an inning. Leading the bullpen is two-way player Ryan Earle ’19 who has a league leading 4 saves along with a minimal 1.06 ERA. Wesleyan hasn’t had exactly the start they were expecting but have been playing well enough to stay atop a tight division. As the Cardinal bats start hitting up to their potential, look for this team to be dangerous towards the end of the season.

  1. Amherst

Since last power rankings, Amherst has gone 4-0 including a sweep against a tough Williams squad. This is partly in thanks to the recent success of its lineup. In his last season, Yanni Thanopoulos is in the running for NESCAC Player of the Year, hitting .400 with 26 RBI’s. Harry Roberson has also contributed power to the lineup slugging an impressive .627 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 homeruns. However, despite hitting a conference best .330, Amherst has only a .500 record at 10-10. This is  due entirely to their disastrous pitching. The staff has a combined 5.82 ERA (which has improved since last week), which includes 9 homeruns and nearly 200 hits in only 173.1innings. The only bright spot is consistent starter Jackson Volle ’17 who has gone 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA in team leading 24.2 innings pitched. Volle has kept this Amherst team relevant with his impressive performances and routine domination of the NESCAC bats. After him though, Amherst’s arms need to step up their game. With a dangerous lineup, this team is never out of any game, but in order to keep their current postseason bid, Amherst will need to find support from their staff.

  1. Williams
Kellen Hatheway
Kellen Hatheway ’19 could follow up is ROY season with a POY trophy this year.

Williams has had a similar start to the season as Amherst. Their offense is hard to stop, with a team average of .310. Kellen Hatheway ‘19, one year removed from his NESCAC Rookie of the Year campaign now is gunning for NESCAC Player of the Year. The sophomore is hitting a conference leading .446 highlighted by 7 doubles and 3 triples. He has additionally added 7 stolen bases to his outstanding numbers. Not to be shadowed by the young star, Junior Jack Roberts ’18 has put together a solid season at the plate as well hitting .391 for the Williams squad. However, despite this strong lineup, Williams has struggled due to the inconsistency of the rotation. The 4.72 team ERA shows the difficulty Williams arms have had. The reason behind this though, could be due to Coach Barrale’s decision to ride his young arms. Standout rookie John Lamont ’20 has had a very successful start to the season, having gone 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA. Additionally, classmate Kyle Dean ’20 has proven he can compete with the best of the ‘CAC, as he has gone 17.2 innings giving up only 2 runs. Williams’s success depends heavily on its young core, but the veterans, especially in the bullpen need to perform for Williams to compete with the top of the league.

  1. Middlebury

Middlebury’s sweep of Hamilton gave them a much-needed jump in the West Division. The Panthers in-conference and overall record perfectly reflect the games they’ve played so far. Sitting one game above and below .500, respectively, Middlebury has kept their games close, as 15 of the 19 games played have been decided by 3 or less runs. New coach Mike Leonard has relied on his senior talent in Jason Lock ’17 and Ryan Rizzo ’17, who are hitting .397 and .355 respectively. These leaders are the heart of a productive Middlebury lineup (hitting .313 as a team.) Similar to other teams in the Conference, Middlebury has found that its weakness is in the pitching staff. The Panthers have the second worst ERA in the NESCAC for both in-conference and overall play. The star in the rotation has been freshman Spencer Shores ’20 who has gone 2-0 in 28.2 innings pitched with a 2.51 ERA. It will take a strong performance for the rest of the season, but Middlebury is back in the race for one of the two playoff spots in the West Division. If the veterans in the rotation can sharpen their game, Middlebury can sneak its way into the postseason.

  1. Bowdoin
Brandon Lopez
Brandon Lopez ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin is quietly riding a 5 game winning streak going into a crucial matchup against Tufts this weekend. Included in this streak is a sweep of Trinity College which brought their in-conference record to 3-3, only one game behind Tufts for the second spot in the division. The winner of this series will have control over the second bid for the playoffs. Bowdoin’s success has not come from any star power, but just clutch play and solid pitching. All three Trinity games were close, despite a lineup that is hitting is measly .270 and has scored only 83 runs in 23 games. Brandon Lopez ’19 is by far the team’s MVP thus far. He is one of the few Polar Bears who has found success at the plate, hitting .328 with team leading 10 RBI’s. Lopez also has led the pitching staff with a 3-0 record and a 1.29 ERA. Behind him is Max Vogel-Freedman ’18 who has a 2.16 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. This Bowdoin staff has brought the team into the race for a playoff bid. Their in-conference ERA sits at a meager 2.68. However, the Polar Bear arms will face their toughest test yet against the dynamic Tufts offense. Winning the series against Tufts would solidify Bowdoin’s relevancy in NESCAC baseball.

  1. Trinity

Trinity lost a tough series to Bowdoin, which severely hurt their opportunity for a playoff bid and dropped them steeply in the power rankings. A lot must go Trinity’s way, starting with a series sweep over first place Bates this upcoming weekend. To complete this daunting task, the Bantams must hit a hot streak at the plate. After Brendan Pierce ’18, this lineup, while it certainly can hit, doesn’t have too much power in their bats. Trinity must string together hits and not leave men on base. When the offense is rolling, it is usually due to senior Nick Dibenedetto ’17. His season has satisfied the high expectations going into the year. He is hitting .366 with a .512 slugging percentage. On the bump, Erik Mohl ’19 has put together a breakout year thus far. In his 12 appearances, Mohl has a 6-1 record and a 2.62 ERA in team high 34.1 innings. After the sophomore, however, Trinity has run into issues. Coach Bryan Adamski continues his search for a solution, as 10 pitchers in the staff have 7 or more appearances. While unlikely to earn a playoff bid after losing the series to Bowdoin, Trinity has the potential to shake up the standings with the potential talent on the team.

  1. Hamilton

Hamilton’s out-of-conference record, 11-7, varies drastically from their in-conference record, 0-5. This slow start has already dug them a deep hole in the tough West Division. The future doesn’t look too bright either as the team’s top six hitters are graduating this spring. One of them, Kenny Collins ‘17 has shown his versatility hitting .400 while also leading the league with 15 stolen bases (caught only once). Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 has also put together a strong final season, hitting .387. The pitching staff is in a much different position. After Finlay O’Hara ’17 who has a 1.50 ERA, the rest of the rotation and bullpen is returning next season. Dan DePaoli ’18 has put together a successful season behind O’Hara. However, his 2.21 ERA has resulted in a mediocre 3-3 record. Hamilton is better suited off getting young guys experience for next season, as this year’s team will likely miss out on the playoffs.

  1. Colby

Despite stealing a game against a strong Tufts team, Colby has struggled in conference play, compiling a 2-7 record. This record, is described perfectly by the run differential in these game: -40. One of the major factors in this statistic is the inability of the Mules team to hit the ball. The team is hitting a mere .265, despite junior Matt Treveloni’s efforts at the plate, hitting .353. In order to climb out of last place, the Mules bats must heat up. On the opposite side, the Colby staff has shown some bright spots. First year player Taimu Ito ’20 has impressed with team leading 27 innings pitched and a 3.33 ERA. Additionally, John Baron ’18 has relied on his curveball to pitch 14.2 innings with a 1.84 ERA. However, the relative success of the Mules’ bullpen hasn’t been enough to make up for an inefficient offense. A four game series against Williams is approaching and Colby will look to get out of last in the East with a series win.

Hardware Watch: Mid-Season Awards Preview

We’re nearing the halfway point of the baseball season, and you all know what means…the seniors are mere weeks away from entering the ever-expanding void of adult life! Yes, that. But also, it’s time to break down where the various NESCAC awards races stand. There will only be one winner of each award at the end of the year, but I’ve given acontender from each division as a way to get more names out there. As always with

Image result for kris allen vs adam lambert
This was the greatest travesty in the history of US reality television, DM me if you disagree.

articles like this, there will be some disagreements. I’ve tried my best to be fair and make reasonable choices, but as American Idol showed in season 8 when Kris Allen won over Adam Lambert, mistakes can be made. If you disagree with any of these names, feel free to email the blog or comment on the post.

Player of the Year

Frontrunner East: Tufts IF Nick Falkson ‘18 (.402/.457/.502, T-1st in league with 28 RBI)

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

Not to sow seeds of discontent within the Jumbo locker room, but there is quite a battle brewing for this spot between Falkson and outfielder Oscar Kutch ‘17. Kutch’s 1.133 OPS is a compelling argument in his favor, but Falkson ultimately takes it with a deadly combination of run production, fundamentals and excellent defense. Falkson is a terrific all around hitter, with quick enough hands to pull inside pitches. But he is also adept at shortening up and going the other way. Long story short, Falkson knows how to hit the baseball. And in a lineup like Tufts’ that is filled to the brim with guys who get on base, Falkson occupies a crucial spot as a run producer. All the guys in front of him have to do is get on, and there’s a good chance Falkson knocks them in. He also plays terrific defense at first base, which is a key component of Tufts’ success. Falkson plays on a great team, but his all around excellence may be what makes them great.

Frontrunner West: Wesleyan OF Matt Jeye ‘18 (.315/.388/.489, T-1st w/ 3 HR, T-1st w/ 28 RBI)

Matt Jeye
Matt Jeye ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I don’t know much. But I do know one thing; when you lead the thing in home runs and RBI, that makes you a contender for the Player of the Year trophy. A powerful outfielder, Jeye provides the muscle in a Wesleyan lineup that has overachieved to some extent this season. Unlike Tufts, Wesleyan’s offense is not tremendously threatening outside of Jeye, making his 28 RBI arguably more impressive. Pitchers are able to focus more of their attention on Jeye than they are Falkson, and he has fewer weapons in front of him to get on base and give him RBI chances. This is not to say that Wesleyan is a non threatening offense, their team splits are a very solid .293/.381/.391. I’m just saying that Jeye might play a larger role in making his team’s offense threatening than Falkson does.

Other Names:

Middlebury 1B Jason Lock ‘17 (.397/.453/.575, 23 RBI, 5 SO in 73 AB)

Amherst OF Yanni Thannapoulos ‘17 (.400/.462/.550, 26 RBI)

Tufts OF Oscar Kutch ‘17 (.400/.520/.613)

Williams IF Kellen Hatheway ‘19 (.446/.500/.662, 7 steals, 3 triples)

Pitcher of the Year:

Frontrunner East: Tufts SP Speros Varinos ‘17 (6-0, 1.50 ERA, 46 SO in 42 innings)

Speros Varinos
Speros Varinos ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Unlike the Player of the Year race, the contest for Pitcher of the Year in the conference appears to be Varinos’ to lose. Varinos has quite simply been the best in every measurable category this season. He leads the league in wins, innings and strikeouts, and is second in the league in ERA despite having made two more starts than the leader. Of course, Varinos does benefit from excellent run support in the vaunted Tufts offense, and has a great defense behind him. But he has two games with 13 strikeouts this season, with one of them coming in his last start against a very good Castleton team. Varinos is only getting better as the season goes on, and should be ready to lead Tufts to a tournament run.

Frontrunner West: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (2-1, 2.77 ERA, 28 SO in 26 innings)

Johnny Lamont
John Lamont ’20 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

It is perhaps questionable that much of Lamont’s qualifications for this spot come from one start. But what a start it was. On April 9th, Lamont shut down Matt Jeye and Wesleyan, giving up just one earned run and striking out 15. It was the biggest pitching performance of the season, as it helped Williams avoid a catastrophic sweep in their division, and it showed off the electric talent that Lamont possesses. He will probably need another excellent outing in a league game to stay in the running in his rookie year, but Lamont is the centerpiece of a very bright future in Williamstown.

Other Names:

Wesleyan SP Mike McCaffrey ’19 (3-1, 3.06 ERA, 36 K in 32.1 innings)

Trinity RP Erik Mohl ’19 (12 appearances, 6-1, 2.62 ERA)

Bowdoin SP/UT Brandon Lopez ’19 (3-0, 1.29 ERA, 3 BB in 28 innings)

Rookie of the Year:

Frontrunner East: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.370/.379/.494, 19 RBI)

Alex Rodriguez ’20 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

That’s right, when he’s not busy being a surprisingly good TV analyst and “dating” (I doubt they’ve ever held hands without a camera on them) Jennifer Lopez, A-Rod spends his time as a precocious first year catcher at Trinity College. Rodriguez required very little time to adjust to college pitching, as he hit .432 in March. This is particularly remarkable for a young catcher, who has to learn how to handle a pitching staff in addition to the offensive adjustment. He has hit something of a learning curve in league play, dropping down to .303 with a .298 OBP in league games. This is may be due in large part to fatigue from the catching duties he has handled for much of the year. In any case, Rodriguez is having an incredible rookie season, and should be a force for the forseeable future.

Frontrunner West: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (2-1, 2.77 ERA, 28 SO in 26 innings)

See above.

Other Names:

Bates C Jack Arend ‘20 (.286/.483/.381)

Middlebury IF Brooks Carroll ‘20 (.365/.404/.462)

New Coach on the Block: A Profile of Middlebury’s Mike Leonard

 Middlebury’s athletic program is rock solid. To be fair, I’m a student here, but to be objective – if objectivity still exists – Sports Illustrated recently gave us the title of the 8th-ranked school in the country for sports lovers. The Panthers have won 7 national championships in the last 10 years – roll Pants. But none of them have been in baseball. Many of our teams have a gaudy reputation both on campus and around the country. Historically, the baseball team has not been one of them.

Enter new head coach Mike Leonard. Coach Leonard, not surprisingly, is a ball player. He caught at UConn and was All Big-East. He went on to play in the Cape Cod League for the Harwich Mariners, and made it as far as the AA Portland Sea Dogs, before taking his batter’s eye from the batter’s box to the dugout (yes, that’s the corniest sentence I’ve ever written). In six seasons as the head coach at Bates, Leonard won over 20 games three times, and compiled 114 wins overall.

Leonard regards both his team and Middlebury’s reputation in a way that speaks towards a bright future for his baseball program. He sees the success of a team in much more than a record. When asked about the health of the program he was inheriting, Coach Leonard said, “I don’t know that the program itself has been struggling…for me personally to judge the program on just wins and losses wasn’t fair.”

I for one, had simply assumed that the program was a weak one. Leonard, as well as the performance of his team this year, have challenged that assumption.

He referenced the attitude of his players, as they situate themselves within the athletic culture at Midd, “They’re certainly ready to join the other teams on campus who are winning NESCAC titles and national championships…They were ready to put in the work, and they have the leadership and direction to get there…I’m excited.”

This is not to say that Middlebury’s new coach is unconcerned about record. After all, any team needs tallies in the win column to make the NESCAC tournament – to do so consistently is one of his goals – but it seems he wants so much more out of his players than just wins. As Leonard put it, “from an identity standpoint I want us to be resilient, confident, regardless of results, regardless of past outcomes.”

As far as young talent is concerned, Middlebury has plenty of it. But Leonard referenced the leadership of his seniors as the key to the team’s success. He said, “One of my messages to the seniors was to always include and empower the first year guys, because if you’re a senior you want to go out on top, and if that means that a freshman can go out and hit a grand slam and help you beat Amherst (Justin!); you’ve gotta be invested in that.”

The level of responsibility placed on senior leaders like Jason Lock ’17 and Ryan Rizzo ’17 has paid off in more ways than one. Not only are several young players playing fantastic baseball, but Rizzo and Lock are both having career seasons. But again, it’s not about the numbers. He sees not only young players playing to their full potential, but perhaps more importantly, he sees that “our seniors have done a great job of kind of putting ego aside and really trying to make it feel like one cohesive unit, one family.”

An excellent example of Coach Leonard’s philosophy shining through was first year Justin Han’s go-ahead grand slam against Amherst last weekend. It is just one of many instances of clutch hitting or solid performances off the mound from young Middlebury players this season. Leonard preaches discipline at the plate and in the game itself, and truly believes that that is the way to success.

He puts competition and cohesion before wins and losses, saying, “We’re sitting here right now at 6-10 with 8 losses by two runs or less. We’ve put ourselves in a position to compete. I want us to continue to be that type of team as long as I’m here.”

With greater emphasis on things like grit, commitment, and leadership, the Middlebury baseball team is already putting itself in position to be successful. As Mike Leonard himself said, judging a program based on number of wins alone isn’t fair. But by taking that perspective to heart, and by nurturing the relationships within his team, especially between the upper- and lower class-men, Middlebury is poised to add significantly to that win count.

Those among us without Coach Leonard’s perspective, those who prioritize victory in their judgement of a team, may soon enough count the Middlebury baseball team among the other consistent winners on campus.

 

Heating Up: Power Rankings 4/10

Second baseman Tom Petry ’17 has been a rock both offensively and defensively so far for the Jumbos (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

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)

Kellen Hathaway ’19 tags out a would be base stealer (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

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.

 

New Look Panthers Hungry for Success: Middlebury Baseball Season Preview

Jason Lock '17 will be expected to be a force in the heart of the Middlebury lineup this season (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Jason Lock ’17 will be expected to be a force in the heart of the Middlebury lineup this season (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

2014 Record: 5-24 (2-10, Fourth in NESCAC West), missed NESCAC playoffs

Starters Returning: 9 (7 Position Players, 2 Pitchers)

Projected Lineup (Stats are from 2014):

CF Dylan Sinnickson ’15 (.379/.446/.526, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 9 SB)*
SS Johnny Read ’17 (.227/.301/.227, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
1B Jason Lock ’17 (.290/.310/.346, 0 HR, 12 RBI)
3B Joe MacDonald ’16 (.281/.311/.354, 2 HR, 19 RBI)
C/DH Max Araya ’16 (.277/.382/.383, 0 HR, 12 RBI)
C/DH John Luke ’16 (.248/.321/.376, 1 HR, 11 RBI)
LF Ryan Rizzo ’17 (.191/.217/.236, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 9 SB)
2B Raj Palekar ’18
RF Garrett Werner ’16 (.254/.342/.299, 1 HR, 6 RBI)

*Stats are from 2013

SP Eric Truss ’15 (0-7, 7.12 ERA, 2.93 K/9, 43.0 IP)
SP Cooper Byrne ’15 (1-5, 4.93 ERA, 4.29 K/9, 42.0 IP)
SP Jake Stalcup ’17 (1-1, 1.50 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 18.0 IP)
SP Rob Erickson ’18 

Offense Overview:

The Panthers need the athletic Dylan Sinnickson '15 to pick right back up where he left off two seasons ago. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
The Panthers need the athletic Dylan Sinnickson ’15 to pick right back up where he left off two seasons ago. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

In what many would call a blessing, there has been a lot of roster turnover from last year in Middlebury. Of the 27 players on this season’s roster, only 16 were rostered last season. The lineup fluctuated often last year, but seven of the starters that made their way into the lineup by season’s end return in 2015. However, it takes nothing but a simple math exercise to see that for the Panthers to build on last year those returning starters will need to hit considerably better. Classmates Ryan Rizzo ’17 and Johnny Read ’17 are particularly important, as Reed is crucial as a table setter for the middle of the order, and Rizzo’s incredible speed will wreak havoc on opposing defenses if he is able to get on base more consistently. First-year infielder Raj Palekar ’18 has earned the first crack at second base by means of his nifty glove work, having beaten out a bevy of other freshmen for the honor, all of whom are likely to get a look during the team’s spring break trip to Arizona. Palekar should help to shore up the middle infield defense that was shaky (to put it positively) last year. The major change in the lineup is the return of center fielder Dylan Sinnickson ’15, an All-NESCAC Second Teamer in 2013. One of the best players in the league in 2013, Sinnickson didn’t come out last year after a long basketball season, but returns this year at exactly the right time. With the departure of last year’s senior captain Alex Kelly ’14, an All-NESCAC Second Teamer himself, Sinnickson slides nicely into the center field and leadoff spots, and brings some much-needed pop to the Middlebury lineup. Not only can he run like heck, but he has the most raw power of anyone on the roster.

Defensive Overview:

Middlebury’s defensive woes last year were arguably the most harmful part of the season. With 79 errors in 20 games, the pitching staff received no help from the defense behind them, which is especially harmful since the pitching staff by and large pitches to contact. The arrival of Palekar in the middle infield and the return of Sinnickson in the outfield will shore up those spots and raise the team defense as a whole. The outfield, in particular, could be fantastic with the wheels that Sinnickson, Rizzo and Garrett Werner ’16 display, and Werner’s powerful arm in right. However, in the wise words of Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical,” and the same applies to Middlebury’s defense. The improved attitude of the team should have positive effects on the defensive performance.

Pitching Overview:

Veteran Eric Truss '15 is expected to anchor the Middlebury staff this spring. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Veteran Eric Truss ’15 plans to anchor the Middlebury staff this spring. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panther’s staff is led by senior captain Eric Truss ’15 and fellow senior Cooper Byrne ’15. Truss appeared to be a rising star as a sophomore, posting a 3.53 ERA, but fell off considerably last year in conjunction with the team as a whole. Byrne, on the other hand, witnessed an improvement last year after getting shelled during his sophomore year. Both pitchers aren’t overpowering, but at their best exhibit good control and force a lot of ground balls, making improved infield defense a necessity. Tall righty Jake Stalcup ’17 seems in line as the third starter after showing flashes of great promise last season, with promising and even taller (6’7″) righty Rob Erickson ’18 also pushing for innings. Middlebury’s staff has years of experience behind it, and will ideally use that to improve upon last year’s performance.

Storylines to Watch

1. Sinnickson Cometh

Watching Sinnickson patrol the outfield and streak down the baselines was one of the singular pleasures of 2013. His incredible athleticism made him one of the best players in the league. He absolutely crushes fastballs and routinely made two-hoppers to shortstop into bang-bang plays at first. Having Sinnickson back on the team in his 2013 form would be crucial for Middlebury’s prospects this season. However, he did miss an entire year, and it would be fair to expect some rust to have set in … if he were a human being. However, since he is not, he should be able to return to form and be in contention for league-wide honors again.

2. Youth Movement

In addition to Palekar, there are several other freshman and sophomores who could make an impact this year, and will be responsible for changing the program’s reputation in the future. Erickson, while pushing for innings as a starter right away, also shows some promise with the bat and considerable pop to match his large frame. Jason Lock ’17, Rizzo and Read are all sophomore starters who will be crucial in bringing the program out of this slump, with Lock showing particular promise as the number three hitter in the lineup. He stands to get many more chances to drive in runs this year as well, with the return of Sinnickson in the leadoff spot and a completely healthy Read (who missed part of 2014 with a since-surgically-repaired shoulder) in the two-hole. Combining an experienced pitching staff with a youth-fueled, energetic lineup gives the Panthers hope that 2015 will be the beginning of a new run of success for Middlebury baseball.

3. It’s About the Team

It only takes a scroll or two down Middlebury College’s Yik Yak feed to see that expectations and school support for the team are not exactly high this season. There are two directions that the team’s response could go. They could either allow it to affect the season, or use it as bulletin board fodder to bring them together. Fortunately, it seems that the latter has been the trend thus far. Coach Bob Smith, now in his 30th season, has noticed that the team is “leaps and bounds” more connected this year than last year, and credits the leadership of senior captain Eric Truss, among others, for creating a focused, professional atmosphere. To return to Yogi’s quote, the Panthers will need to be – and appear to be on the right path towards being – in a far better mental state to play the game than last year, and that could have immeasurable benefits in their play. So, if I may offer the team a motto for the season (and paraphrase another great and quotable Major Leaguer), “Fu…Forget Yik Yak, and let’s play two.”

Biggest Series: March 27-28 against Williams

As Middlebury’s first NESCAC series of the year and a rivalry series, this matchup will offer the Panthers a great opportunity to put the league on notice that they won’t be a pushover this season. For Middlebury to change people’s minds about them, they’ll have to start early, and this series against Williams, another team that underachieved last season, should leave them salivating at the chance to prove that 2014 is gone and long forgotten.

Stock Report May 5

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

Stock Up

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

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

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

Stock Down

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

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

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

Mid-Season Awards

With a few weekends left before the season draws to a close we thought now was a good time to put forth our awards for the year thus far. We took into account the entire season, but weighted conference performance above all.

West Division

Courtesy of Amherst Athletics
Courtesy of Amherst Athletics

MVP – Mike Odenwaelder ’16 Outfielder/Pitcher (Amherst) – Odenwaelder wins by a thread over many other deserving candidates. Odenwaelder is thumping the ball all over the place with a .447 average and top-notch .697 slugging percentage. He leads Amherst with 21 RBIs and is tied with Connor Gunn ’16 with three homers. All that being said, what puts him over the top is his mound dominance. The sophomore is so talented that he has pitched 20.2 innings for a team loaded with pitching. His 1.74 ERA is the sixth best mark in the NESCAC and he has held opponents to a .123 average. The only runs he has allowed were in his first appearance of the season. Odenwaelder is not one of the weekend starters (yes, Amherst is that talented), but his arm is one of the most electric in the league.

Honorable Mention- Joe Jensen ’15 (Hamilton), Donnie Cimino ’15 (Wesleyan), Alex Kelly ’14 (Middlebury) and Matt Kastner ’14 (Williams)

Courtesy of Amherst Athletics
Courtesy of Amherst Athletics

Most Valuable Pitcher – Dylan Driscoll ’14 (Amherst) – Amherst garners another award because one of the main reasons Odenwaelder isn’t starting is the performance of the Jeffs’ other starters, Driscoll in particular. The only team that has gotten to Driscoll is Williams, who roughed up the righty for six runs. Besides that, Driscoll has allowed one run in four starts which all lasted at least seven innings. A 1.50 ERA through 36 innings is nothing to scoff at. He barely walks anybody, yielding only four free passes on the season, but he still strikes batters out at a 8.50 K/9 rate. The senior is the leader of a staff that is deep in experience and talent.

Honorable Mention- Jjay Lane ’15 (Hamilton), Nick Cooney ’15 (Wesleyan) and John Cook ’15 (Amherst)

Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics
Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics

Most Improved Player – Joe Jensen ’15 Outfielder (Hamilton) – Last season Jensen was a stolen base savant who got on-base at an about league average rate of .347. This season, however, the Hamiltonian lead-off man has morphed into an on-base machine still capable of wreaking havoc on the base paths. A big reason for his .514 OBP is that he doesn’t strike out often while also drawing a lot of walks. He has as many walks, 10, as strikeouts. That, coupled with speed that earned him a second-place finish in the 400m final at the March NCAA Indoor Championships, Jensen maximizes his chances of getting on-base even when he doesn’t connect with the ball well. He has been carrying the Hamilton offense for most of the season.

Honorable Mention – Andrew Vandini ’16 (Amherst), Luke Pierce ’16 (Williams) and Max Araya ’16 (Middlebury)

Courtesy of Williams Athletics
Courtesy of Williams Athletics

Rookie of the Year – Jack Cloud ’17 Outfielder (Williams) – Wesleyan’s Robby Harbison is making a strong push for this award right now, but Cloud’s body of work is better at this point. An OBP of .459 and slugging percentage of .600 would be exceptional for a senior, and to do it as a freshman is almost unheard of. After only striking out only once in his first 11 games, Cloud has been rung up 10 times in his last six contests, but he is still getting on-base, having hit safely in five of those last six. He has not kept up the torrid pace he established at the beginning of the season, but those numbers were almost impossible to continue.

Honorable Mention – Robby Harbison ’17 (Wesleyan), Ellis Schaefer ’17 (Wesleyan), Kenny Collins ’17 (Hamilton) and Jason Lock ’17 (Middlebury)

East Division

Courtesy of Colby Athletics
Courtesy of Colby Athletics

MVP – Jason Buco ’15 Outfielder (Colby) – This pick might come as a surprise to some. Nobody in the East sticks out from the crowd, but Buco gets the nod over a number of others. A case could be made that teammate Kevin Galvin ’14 is having a slightly better season offensively. His OBP of .469 is 50 percentage points better than Buco’s, more than making up for Buco’s 48 percentage points advantage in slugging percentage. One big difference is that Buco’s defense has been much better. Galvin plays a more demanding position in third base, but his fielding percentage of .806 is still far too low. Buco’s four home runs is tied for tops in the league. Also a star on the football team, Buco is helping to turn around two programs at Colby that are hitting new heights.

Honorable Mention – Kevin Galvin ’14 (Colby), Chad Martin ’16 (Bowdoin), Kevin Davis ’14 (Bates), Griffin Tewksbury ’14 (Bates) and Max Freccia ’14 (Tufts)

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Most Valuable Pitcher – Kyle Slinger ’15 (Tufts) – No award is easier to hand out than this one. That is saying a lot considering that the top four and nine of the top 11 league leaders in ERA pitch in the East. Despite that, no pitcher can touch Slinger’s dominance so far. To quickly reiterate what we wrote on Monday, Slinger has a 0.66 ERA and .136 opponents’ batting average for the season. He strikes out one batter an inning and hasn’t allowed a run in his last three starts. The only wart on his resume is the 19 walks he has handed out thus far, but the walk issue is the equivalent of punctuation error in a Pulitzer Prize novel. Slinger has been so good that he garnered consideration for MVP of the East. A plethora of other pitchers are throwing great this season, but nobody can match the Tufts ace.

Honorable Mention: Scott Goldberg ’15 (Colby), Tim Superko ’17 (Tufts), Brad Reynolds ’14 (Bates) and Harry Ridge ’16 (Bowdoin)

Courtesy of Colby Athletics
Courtesy of Colby Athletics

Most Improved Player – Scott Goldberg ’15 Starting Pitcher (Colby) – When Goldberg got off to a fast start this season some questioned his ability to maintain it given how much he struggled last season. And yet, Goldberg has actually gotten better as the season goes on. He stumbled a bit against Trinity before tossing a gem against Bowdoin going eight innings while allowing two (unearned) runs. A season after posting a 5.50 ERA, he is the justified owner of a mark five times as low: 1.05. Goldberg is also striking out batters at a prodigious rate of 10.52 per nine innings. This award could just as easily have gone to fellow Mule Kevin Galvin ’14, who is enjoying a huge bump in production as well.

Honorable Mentions: Peter Cimini ’16 (Bowdoin), Brian Wolfe ’15 (Trinity) and Kevin Galvin ’14 (Colby)

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics
Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

Rookie of the Year – Tim Superko ’17 Starting Pitcher (Tufts) – If it wasn’t for how well Slinger has been pitching, Superko would be neck and neck with Goldberg for best pitcher in the East. For now he has to be content with being seen as the understudy to Master Slinger. Keep in mind, he is no slouch of an understudy, the owner of a 1.04 ERA and eye-catching 11.77 K/9. His two wins undersells the impact he has had for the Jumbos as a freshman. Last weekend the bullpen blew a lead after Superko threw five innings of one run ball. One knock of him is that he has only pitched 26 innings while never going more than six in a start. As Tufts takes any restrictions off him, Superko will only continue to improve. As an aside, the East is definitely lacking in impact freshmen overall when compared to the West.

Honorable Mention – Ryder Arsenault ’17 (Colby) and Tom Petry ’17 (Tufts)

 

Tell us what you think, where we went wrong and who we missed in the comments section.