Aces Are Wild: Tufts Baseball Season Preview

Tim Superko '17 (above) and Kyle Slinger '15 are expected to form the best 1-2 punch in the NESCAC (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tim Superko ’17 (above) and Kyle Slinger ’15 are expected to form the best 1-2 punch in the NESCAC (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

2014 Record: 34-9 (9-3, Lost in NESCAC Championship Game, 1-2 in NCAA New England Regional)

Returning Starters: 7 (5 Position Players, 2 Pitchers)

Projected Starting Lineup (2014 Stats):

CF Connor McDavitt ’15 (.345/.461/.455, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 15 SB)
LF Cody McCallum ’16 (.226/.327/.238, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 7 SB)
DH Bryan Egan ’15 (.258/.368/.290, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
3B Tommy O’Hara ’18
SS Matt Moser ’15 (.299/.371/.422, 2 HR, 28 RBI)
1B James Howard ’15 (.280/.415/.320, 0 HR, 11 RBI)
C Nick Barker ’15 (.346/.466/.432, 1 HR, 13 RBI)
2B Tom Petry ’17 (.256/.424/.333/ 0 HR, 17 RBI)
RF Harry Brown ’16 (.200/.273/.200, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

SP Kyle Slinger ’15 (9-0, 1.18 ERA)
SP Tom Superko ’17 (4-2, 2.64 ERA)
SP Andrew David ’16 (4-3, 3.60 ERA)

Offensive Overview:

Tufts’ offensive is the only aspect of their team that causes any uncertainty heading into 2015. Though the Jumbos’ .278 team average in 2014 was middle of the pack, Tufts stakes its identity on its pitching and defense, so if the offense can produce at a high level they will be very tough to beat. The middle of the order will look very different this season as Wade Hauser ’14 and Max Freccia ’14 both graduated last spring. Centerfielder Connor McDavitt ’15 enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 where he hit .345 with 28 RBIs and tied for the team lead with 14 doubles. McDavitt is a sure lock for the lead off spot in the Jumbos’ lineup. Nick Barker ’15 hit .345 in a part-time role last year and figures to share time behind the plate with classmate Bryan Egan ’15. James Howard ’15 figures to get quality at bats at first base after batting .280 with 18 walks over 29 starts in 2014. Matt Moser ’15 will play a key offensive role after earing All-NESCAC honors last year and batting .299 with a team leading 38 RBIs.

Defensive Overview:

The Jumbos Defense is one of the best not only in the NESCAC, but also in the nation. Flashing a .967 fielding percentage a year ago, they look to continue their tradition of defensive excellence. The centerpiece of the Jumbos defense will be returning NESCAC Defensive POY McDavitt. McDavitt had just one error in 105 total chances last year and tallied five outfield assists. All-NESCAC First Team SS Moser, who helped Tufts turn 40 double plays last year, and 2B Tom Petry ’17, who had a .960 fielding percentage, figure to form one of the strongest middle infields in the NESCAC. The Jumbos will look to Barker and Egan to split time behind the plate as First Team All-NESCAC catcher Nick Cutsumpas ’14 graduated.

Pitching Overview:

Like their defense, the Jumbos pitching aims to be one of the top staffs in the country. Tufts ranked seventh nationally with a 2.53 ERA last season. Anchored by the reigning NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and NEIBA and All-New England First Teamer Kyle Slinger ’15, Tufts figures to dominate their NESCAC competition again. Slinger, a pro prospect and preseason All-American, went 9-0 and posted an unreal 1.18 ERA over 76 innings in 2014. Also returning to the starting rotation is reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year Tim Superko ’17. In 2014, Superko logged 58 innings while posting a 2.64 ERA and an impressive 2.4 K/BB ratio. The Jumbos will look to replace Christian Sbily ’14, an All-NESCAC Second Team pick, with righty Andrew David ’16. The Jumbos’ bullpen will be strong once again as Tom Ryan ’15, who posted a team leading 2.8 K/BB ratio, and Willie Archibald ’15 look to shut down opponent’s offenses in the late innings and Speros Varinos ’17, who matched Ryan for the most appearances last year,  could rack up a lot of saves for the Jumbos.

Storylines to Watch:

1. Can Tufts avenge their NESCAC championship loss?

After missing the conference tournament for two years in a row, the Jumbos returned with a bang by winning the East pennant and earning a berth into the Championship series. After forcing a winner-take-all game by beating Wesleyan 10-0 on the brink of elimination but ultimately dropping the finale, the Jumbos are on a mission to take back the throne. With a nationally-ranked defense and pitching staff, the Jumbos are in prime position to take home the NESCAC crown in 2015. With the reigning POY and reigning ROY returning to their starting rotation, the Jumbos aim to do some serious damage in the NESCAC.

2. What will Kyle Slinger accomplish in his senior season?

Kyle Slinger has been one of the most dominant pitchers over his career at Tufts. Last year’s performance was one for the record books as he held opposing hitters to an astonishing .174 batting average. Slinger’s previous performance lead to selecting him to be a pre-season All-American. With his impressive track record, expect Slinger to raise the bar even further this season and put up some mind-blowing stats.

3. How does the Jumbos lineup shake out?

If there is anything that can hold Tufts back this season it is the offense. Can their offense provide enough run support for its heralded starters? Can returning players such as Moser and McDavitt step up to replace last year’s seniors? Either way the Jumbos will need multiple players to step up to fill in the gap. Freshmen such as Tommy O’Hara ’18, Michael McLaughlin ’18, Christian Zazzali ’18 and Stefan White ’18 figure to get an opportunity to compete for at bats if the returners don’t produce.

Biggest Series: April 24-25 against Bates

Bates probably presents the stiffest challenge that Tufts will face in the NESCAC East, and the two teams’ strengths match up with one another, as the Bobcats figure to bang the ball around the park quite a bit this season. It will be fun to watch two of the league’s best units go after one another, and either team could be fighting for a spot in the NESCAC tournament seeing as this represents the last conference series of the regular season for both teams.

Saturday Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Preview

The first weekend of NESCAC conference action is set to begin. Four series will count towards the conference standings. The importance of every series in a NESCAC season can not be overstated. It is nearly impossible to make the four-team postseason with more than four losses. Last season, East representatives Tufts and Bowdoin each had four losses while Amherst and Wesleyan had three each. So if a team gets swept this weekend, it essentially have to win out the rest of its NESCAC schedule in order to make the playoffs. Of course, many of these games might not even get played. Conditions have been frigid across the northeast, and rain is in the forecast for this weekend. Nevertheless, hoping that these teams do get there games in, here is a preview of the weekend.

Marquee Matchup: Bowdoin (8-3-1) at Trinity (4-8)

The East Division was a three way race last year that ended with Bowdoin and Trinity at the top. But both squads face some tough competition this year if they hope to return to the postseason. Early on this season Tufts has looked like the best team in the NESCAC, and they are, in my opinion, the frontrunner for the East Division crown. Additionally, Bates and Colby should be better than last year, so there are not any easy wins to come by in the division. All of that makes this opening series all the more important for both teams.

Of the two teams, Bowdoin comes in playing much better baseball. The key has been the emergence of young players including a couple who are hitting everything in sight. Chad Martin ’16 didn’t record a single at-bat last season, but he won the first Player of the Week Award. His slugging percentage of .717  is absurd for anybody, and the fact that it is coming after doing nothing last year is even more impressive. Some regression should be expected especially given Martin’s 9-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He should expect to see a lot of curveballs and other offspeed pitches early in the count from hurlers hoping that he swings away. Peter Cimini has also exploded onto the scene this spring and will hope to continue that into NESCAC play. Harry Ridge ’16 has become the team’s ace in the early going with a .98 ERA in 18.1 innings over three starts. The two top projected starters, Henry Van Zant ’15 and Christian Martin ’14, have yet to pitch this season. Their status is unclear entering this weekend, but the fact Bowdoin has done so well without them is impressive.

On the other side of things is a Trinity team that has looked the worst a Bantams squad has been in recent memory. The slugging lineup that we have come to expect has been performing far from peak level with only one home run through twelve games. Trinity has scored only 52 runs through 12 games, and 27 of those came in two games. Williams has scored 16 more runs in 6 less games so far this season. Juniors Daniel Pidgeon and Brian Wolfe have been leading the way for Trinity offensively, but Trinity just isn’t getting big extra-base hits or stringing a lot of hits together at once right now. The pitching has been solid for Trinity, but hasn’t been able to make up for the offense. Lots of different pitchers are seeing time for Trinity right now so while we expect to see Peter Burrows ’14 and Ryan Carr ’14, manager Bryan Adamski has a lot of arms to choose from. The outcome of this season will tell us whether Trinity is truly having a down year. If Bowdoin wins the series it is a testament to the program’s depth and ability to plug in players without missing a beat.

Three To Watch

1. Joe Jensen ’15 (Hamilton)- The junior outfielder has been a menace so far this season. Everybody knew that he could fly on the basepaths, and he already has eight stolen bases for the year, but it’s what he has been doing with the bat that is shocking. His OBP stands at .586 in an albeit small sample size of 25 at-bats (stats for Hamilton’s last four games are not available). Many of these hits are on grounders to the infielders that Jensen beats out with his speed. With Jensen at the top, the Continentals are off to a nice start so far at 7-4.

2. Jack Roberts ’17 (Williams)- Williams has been involved in a bunch of high scoring games so far this season. The story is the same as last year as an above-average offense can’t offset a struggling pitching staff. Roberts has been a key part of the Ephs lineup batting .444. The lefty batting freshman has shown he has power with one home run already. It isn’t likely, but if the pitching gets it figured out Williams could surprise teams. Williams and Middlebury also have the luxury of playing in sunny Arizona while the rest of the league languishes up north.

3. Wade Hauser ’15 (Tufts)- The Tufts offense is loaded from top to bottom, but Hauser still stands out. His nine extra-base hits is tied for tops in the league. An area of concern is that he already has eight errors on the season. While it isn’t likely, he could move to the outfield or even DH if he continues at this rate. Tufts has a potentially tricky weekend against Bates if the games are able to be played up in Lewiston.

Looking Back, Glancing Forward: East Division

Bates: The first team to play games up north, Bates swept their three game series against SUNY Old Westbury to improve on the season to 4-6. Seniors Kevin Davis ’14 and Griffin Tewksbury ’14 have led the way at the plate for the Bobcats. Tewksbury in particular has been raking with a .371/.463/.629 slash line highlighted by his two homeruns. The defense, which cost them some games down south, was better for Bates as they had two or fewer errors in each of the three games against Westbury. They have doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday against Salem State and Husson.

Bowdoin: Bowdoin sits at 6-2 on the season now mostly on the strength of contributions from players who saw little time last year. In particular first baseman/outfielder Chad Martin ’16 and outfielder Peter Cimini ’16 have been on fire at the plate. Combined the two have hit for a .550 avg, nine runs, and nine runs batted in. In the first meeting between two NESCAC teams Hamilton bested the Polar Bears 2-1. The game ended in dramatic fashion with the tying run for Bowdoin gunned out at home after a single by Cole DiRoberto ’15. Bowdoin finishes their Florida trip with doubleheaders Wednesday and Friday.

Colby: The Mules have to wait until Sunday to get the season started against Bard. More importantly we want to offer our condolences to the Metto family and Colby community for the tragic loss of Griffin Metto ’15. Colby Echo and Campus Mourns Loss of Griffin Metto.

Trinity: An uneven start isn’t overly shocking given the amount of turnover in both players and coaches, but an 11-1 thrashing at the hands of Western New England is cause for concern. The offense got off to a great start tallying 13 runs against Denison in the first game of the season, but has only tallied five runs in the last three games. The good news is that Peter Burrows ’14 was impeccable in his first start going six scoreless with eight strikeouts. Trinity has a lot of time to get it going down in Florida, where they will be through Sunday, and plays Endicott later today.

Tufts: The Jumbos are a perfect 4-0 so far showing that they have the capability to win both low and high scoring games. Andrew David ’16 struggled in his first start on the mound allowing five runs against MIT including four in the sixth inning, but the Tufts bats were all over MIT from the start with six runs in the first two innings. Complete coverage of Tufts exciting win in the second game of the doubleheader against MIT can be found here. The depth of the Tufts rotation is already showing as the three other starters for the Jumbos allowed at most only one run. Wade Hauser ’15 is his usual self with a homer already to go along with .381 on-base percentage. Tufts is not as far south as other NESCAC teams as they are playing in North Carolina and Virginia. We are not sure what the impact of the latest winter storm will be, but Tufts has had to already postpone one game.

Tufts Season Preview

Tufts (22-13, 7-5 in 2013)

What they lost:

The Jumbos have a huge level of talent on their roster, but they were not immune to offseason losses. Shortstop Scott Staniewicz was probably the most important offensive force for Tufts last year, hitting .344 with 22 RBI and a fantastic .452 OBP. He also stole 11 bases. Outfielder Nate Izzo batted .322 with 16 RBI and also stole 11 bases. The departure of these two table setters leaves Tufts with significant worries about who can get on base in front of sluggers Wade Hauser ’15 and Matt Freccia ’14.  They will probably bank on Nick Barker ’15 continuing his 2013 success, and on improvement from junior speedster Connor McDavitt ’15, who already gets on base at a .437 clip. Staniewicz and Izzo would be difficult to replace for any team, but if there’s a team with the talent to do it, it’s Tufts.

2014 MVP: Wade Hauser ’15

Tufts has several dangerous hitters in their lineup, with three returning players who hit over .300 last year. But one slugger stands a cut above the rest in their lineup, and that is junior infielder Wade Hauser.  Last year, as a sophomore, Hauser hit .358, with three homers and 24 RBI.  He also posted an impressive .925 OPS.  This was enough to earn him a 2nd team all-NESCAC nod. For these next two years, we can expect only more of the same from Hauser, which is a scary thought for the pitchers of NESCAC. In addition to Hauser, first baseman Freccia (.379 with 16 RBI) and catcher Barker (.344) will make up the middle of the order, replacing Staniewicz and Izzo.

2014 Pitcher of the Year: Andrew David ’16

One would be hard pressed to find a more dangerous pitching staff in NESCAC than the one Tufts is trotting out this season. An astounding six pitchers from last year’s staff had an ERA under 3.00, with four of them returning this season. Indeed, it is difficult to choose a pitcher who truly stands out in Tufts’ staff, as there is so much talent across the board. But Andrew David ’16 gets the nod because of his youth and versatility. David made six starts in his 13 appearances, tossing two shutouts. In his 54 innings pitched, he only walked 9, while striking out 47. Allow me to reiterate: that was his freshman year. In addition to David, ace closer Matt Moser ’16 (1.96 ERA) returns, and appropriately named lefty Kyle Slinger ’15 (2.71 with 4 wins) is back as well.  To the dismay of the rest of NESCAC, Tufts’ staff vaguely resembles the Orioles of the ’70’s, and should remain dominant for the foreseeable future.

Season Outlook:

To be blunt, this team is loaded. The offense will step back slightly without Staniewicz and Izzo, but Hauser, Freccia and Barker will keep it highly dangerous.  And honestly, any offense would be adequate with the pitching staff Tufts has lined up. The ceiling for this team is getting higher every day, and only injuries will keep them from being in heavy contention for the NESCAC title.