Off The Top Of My HeadColumns
Three months down, two months to go. This 2017 college baseball season has already been a freaking zoo and the month of April proved that once again. As we head down the stretch to the month of May – the cruelest month on the calendar – let’s take a look back at what we discovered over the past few weeks.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE MONTH OF APRIL
The highlights of what we discovered from the third month of the season… even though there are still three more days in the month left. But you get the drift, StitchHeads.
– Again, nobody is great.
I know I say that every month, and hopefully it’s getting through to you guys. But look at it from my point of view. Here is another solidifying reason why; In the last few weeks, I have seen No. 1 Oregon State lose at UCLA and I saw No. 3 Clemson lose at Florida State. Both teams got beat pretty soundly in those games too. Earlier in the year I saw No. 5 TCU get shelled at UC Irvine. So my experience with three of the top five teams is that I have seen them get a little bit of a beatdown put on them in person. I still maintain, the amount of movement in the rankings this past month and the lack of dominant teams means May and June will be a circus of upsets once again this year.
– Brent Rooker replaces Brendan McKay as the National Player of the Year.
This guy is unbelievable. From a .324-11-54 last year, nobody assumed he’d hit the stratosphere in 2017 for Mississippi State, but his numbers have improved bit by bit in the month of April and now Rooker is hitting .400 with 16 home runs and 58 RBI. Mark Etheridge has a great piece on Rooker and how he was intentionally walked in a game vs. Kentucky with two men on base after he hit home runs in his first three at-bats.
– Then again, McKay answered Rooker with this in Tuesday’s 14-4 win over Eastern Kentucky.
– Air Force’s Bradley Haslam went streaking through April.
Keep your radar on the Air Force third baseman in the games ahead as our sport hasn’t had a hit streak like this since Garrett Wittles of FIU back in 2011. The month of April saw the Falcon outfielder extend his hitting streak to 43 games, the sixth longest streak in NCAA history. With the streak going strong, Haslam is now hitting .417 with nine home runs and 46 RBI for the season. The 20-20 Falcons host Nevada this weekend.
– Unfortunately St. Peter’s kept streaking through April too.
Oi vey. The month of April was no kinder to the Peacocks as they still remain the only team in Division I to have yet to win a game in 2017. So far in the month of April the ‘Cocks have lost 17 games. In their 23 total losses this year, the Peacocks have only played two games that ended in a one-run loss and two games that ended in a two-run loss. Other than those, none of their games were all that close. Grrrrrrr. C’mon guys, we’re pulling for you.
– April proved that the demise of Florida State was greatly exaggerated.
In the opening weekend of April the Seminoles got swept at home by North Carolina, which resulted in their RPI ranking falling to No. 56. Sitting at 18-11 overall, their 39-year streak of NCAA bids looked a little wobbly, for sure. But since then they have beaten Florida Gulf Coast (twice), N.C. State, Clemson (twice) and Miami, helping their RPI jump up to No. 23.
– However, April did confirm that the demise of these teams is nearly at hand.
Revisiting the “Uh-Oh List” from the end of March, here are the tradition-rich teams that are still in danger of getting shut out of the NCAA tournament. Some of them for the first time in a lonnnnnnng time.
April Record: 9-6
Season Record: 20-21, 10-10 ACC
Last Time Not In NCAAs: 1972
Any Hope?: Not much. A road weekend at Virginia is the only chance for major RPI gain. But there’s always the ACC tournament.
April Record: 8-5
Season Record: 16-25, 7-11 CUSA
Last Time Not In NCAAs: 1994
Any Hope?: Gah! Nope. Too many games below .500.
April Record: 7-7
Season Record: 18-20, 5-10 Pac 12
Last Time Not In NCAAs: 2014
Any Hope?: Actually, yes. The Devils remaining weekend opponents have RPIs of 54, 19, 51, 7 and 34. But they’ve gotta win.
April Record: 4-11
Season Record: 22-20, 2-10 AAC
Last Time Not In NCAAs: 2014
Any Hope?: Very little. The Pirates are eight games below .500 in CAA play and recovering from that will be very difficult.
April Record: 6-10
Season Record: 20-20, 6-15 ACC
Last Time Not In NCAAs: 2014
Any Hope?: I can’t imagine there is. Three games vs. Virginia is the only opponent inside the top 80 of the RPI and that 6-15 ACC mark probably ain’t gonna get back over the hump.
– The Ivy League season is too short.
I complain about this every season, but damn, I’d love to see how the Ivy League turned out if this last weekend in April wasn’t the final weekend of the regular season. Administrators of the Ancient Eight don’t want to have any regular season games beyond finals week. Thus, this weekend is the final weekend before the Ivy League Playoffs begin next week.
Penn is leading Columbia by two games in the Gehrig Division heading into their four-game showdown on Saturday and Sunday. On the Rolfe Division side of things, Yale (who by the way is ranked at No. 59 in the RPI) has locked up the pennant and with one win out of four games vs. last-place Brown this weekend, can sew up the home field for the best-of-three between division leaders next week. See you there guys.
– April proved that whole “pitching and defense” thing can be a little misleading
Want proof that pitching and defense aren’t exactly the be-all, end-all for having a championship team? Look at Ole Miss. The Rebels lead the SEC with a team ERA of 2.96, yet there they are near the bottom of the West Division in sixth place with a 9-9 mark in conference play. To be fair, the Rebs have gone 9-4 this month, so things are on the upswing. But with that dominant of a pitching staff, they should at least be contending for a division crown.
– As good as March was for Florida Gulf Coast, April was a complete 180 horror show.
Remember the Eagles from March? They beat then-No. 1 Florida twice, they beat Florida State and went 17-1 for the month and were ranked at No. 10 in the RPI on March 31st. Then, the Eagles went 4-13 in the month of April and saw their A-Sun record drop to 4-8. Worst part? The FGCU RPI plummeted to No. 67. Poor dudes.
Okay, enough about all that. Let’s see what the final weekend in April has for us StitchHeads.
TEN PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND
Fire up the Lear Jet, here are the best places to be all at once.
10- UC Irvine at No. 16 Cal State Fullerton
UCI: 15-23, 2-7 Big West, No. 142 RPI
CSF: 24-14, 6-3 Big West, No. 32 RPI
This bitter rivalry is much more important than you might think. The Titans’ next four weekend opponents have RPIs of 144, 154, 111 and 172. It’s almost as if they have to go unbeaten in those games to not fall out of post-season Regional host discussion.
9- Ole Miss at No. 15 Arkansas
Miss: 25-16, 9-9 SEC, No. 46 RPI
Ark: 33-10, 12-6 SEC, No. 12 RPI
This should be interesting. The youthful Rebels have gone 5-9 in games away from Swayze Field and a trek to Baum Stadium is about as intense as it gets. With their RPI currently sitting in the mid-40s, the Rebels need a couple wins here, if possible. SEC teams aren’t given a lot of rope with RPIs that high.
8- No. 23 Houston at South Florida
UofH: 27-13, 8-4 AAC, No. 31 RPI
USF: 32-9, 7-5 AAC, No. 30 RPI
It will be an arms race in Tampa this weekend. The Cougars bring the 17th-best pitching staff in the country with a team ERA of 3.22. But the Bulls are fourth nationally at 2.64. The big key will be walks. The Cougars are third in D1 giving away just 2.25 walks per game. USF’s Kevin Merrill leads the AAC with a .403 average and .494 on-base percentage. Oh and get this, with their 6-0 loss to Stetson on Wednesday night, the Bulls saw their RPI drop from No. 18 to No. 30. Not a typo.
7- No. 22 Maryland at Indiana
UMd: 28-11, 12-3 Big 10, No. 21 RPI
IU: 22-16-2, 8-6-1 Big 10, No. 26 RPI
Indiana has very quietly been hanging around in the mid-20s of the RPI all season long, even with a more battered won-loss mark. They are coming off an impressive series win at Michigan and are looking to make a name for themselves. But they’ll have to face the best tandem in the B1G as Brian Shaffer (5-2, 1.77) and Tyler Blohm (7-3, 2.49) combine to hold opponents to a .202 average.
6- No. 14 Virginia at Florida State
UVa: 33-10, 12-9 ACC, No. 14 RPI
FSU: 26-16, 10-10 ACC, No. 24 RPI
The Wahoos hit .326 as a team (sixth in D1) and heads down to T-town to take on an FSU team that plays as well as any team does on its own home field. I saw them put a major hurtin’ on a good Clemson pitching staff two weeks ago, scoring 24 runs in three games. If the Seminoles are going to play at home in the post-season, winning here will be a big help.
5- No. 6 Kentucky at South Carolina
UK: 28-13, 12-6 SEC, No. 4 RPI
SoCar: 24-15, 9-9 SEC, No. 20 RPI
Tough luck for the Gamecocks, seeing their ace Clark Schmidt go down for the season with Tommy John. How the rest of the arms arsenal steps up will be a big key. Is it a soul-crusher? Or is this a motivator for the Gamecocks? They will face off with the best offense in the SEC, as the Cats hit .315 as a team.
4- No. 7 Auburn at No. 10 Mississippi State
Aub: 30-13, 12-6 SEC. No. 25 RPI
MSU: 29-14, 13-5 SEC, No. 16 RPI
Watching the Sunday Auburn-Arkansas last week I noticed the announcers couldn’t stop gushing on the Tiger tandem of Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize, and for good reason. The two aces are first and third in the SEC with 1.23 and 1.48 ERAs respectively. How those two handle MSU big sticks Brent Rooker (.403-17-28) and Jake Mangum (.345) will make for great theater in Starkville.
3- No. 12 Arizona at No. 20 Stanford
UofA: 27-12, 9-9 Pac 12, No. 9 RPI
Stan: 24-12, 8-7 Pac 12, No. 18 RPI
J.J. Matijevic (.406-6-44) and Alfonso Rivas (.382-5-41) lead an intimidating Wildcat offense that hits .324 and will go into Palo Alto to face off with the well-armed Cardinal flingers. The problem is the Cats inexplicably lost all three games at home to Utah last weekend, dropping them from No. 2 in the RPI to No. 9. This is a redemption weekend for them, but the Trees also have their sights set on playing at home in June.
2- No. 5 TCU at No. 8 Texas Tech
TCU: 30-9, 11-4 Big 12, No. 11 RPI
TTU: 34-11, 9-6 Big 12, No. 5 RPI
The Red Raiders took a shot to the ego by losing a home series to Oklahoma State last weekend and look to make amends against a TCU team that comes in without the services of starting pitcher Jared Janczak (6-0, 2.25), who is out for a few weeks. Best stat of the week? The Double-T boys improved their team batting average from .298 up to .306 after slapping 27 hits in their 27-15 win at New Mexico on Wednesday.
1- No. 3 Clemson at No. 4 North Carolina
CU: 34-8, 16-5 ACC, No. 2 RPI
UNC: 33-9, 16-5 ACC, No. 3 RPI
A great Atlantic vs. Coastal matchup which features the pitching of J.B. Bukauskas (7-0, 1.53) and Luca Dalatri (5-2, 2.22) going up against Tiger sluggers Reed Rohlman (.400) and Seth Beer (12HRs, 43walks). I happened to catch the Tigers at the wrong time when I saw them at FSU, but the CU arms staff has a 3.06 team ERA (13th in D1). But of course, the Heels’ ERA of 2.72 is good for sixth in the country. Dang, I should’ve taken the Lear Jet out to Carolina this weekend.
THE ALL-NAME TEAM, (Continued)
A couple more names that need to be added to the 2017 College Baseball All Name Team
– Cannon Chadwick, Arkansas
– Nic Ready, Air Force 1B
– Houston Glad, Creighton pitcher
BALL STATE’S SECRET WEAPON.
Since “Chuck” has come along, the Cardinals have won ten of their last eleven and scored 122 runs in that stretch. Before “Chuck” BSU had a nine-game losing streak with just 23 runs scored. Here is the lowdown on Chuck.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK.
New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham after his team lost Wednesday’s game to Texas Tech 27-15…
“Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. That’s just the way it goes.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK II
Oregon State assistant coach Nate Yeskie…
“I love how you go to all these off-the-beaten path places. You’re like one of those guys who goes out and discovers some garage band who goes on to be a huge hit.”
Me, getting compared to a rock-n-roll “gym rat” who discovers local bands who hit it big? Boom! I’m sold. Damn, I should’ve gone into the music business.
SPEAKING OF THE BEAVERS
One of the things I asked of coach Yeskie before their Saturday game at UCLA was “What is the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team?”
He said it was pretty simple, “Nothing fazes these guys. It’s like, if we give up a run or two or three in an inning, nobody is hanging their heads and nobody is complaining about it, they just grab their helmets and their bats and get locked in. The confidence level is off the charts.”
As is well-known in the college baseball circles this year, the Beavers pitching staff leads the NCAA – and by a large margin – with a team ERA of 1.88. But coach Yeskie also beamed about the middle-infielders, who have combined to commit just nine errors so far this year.
“It’s true that our pitching has been as good as we could have hoped. But it also doesn’t hurt that Nick Madrigal (second baseman) and Cadyn Grenier (shortstop) have been absolute beasts this year. They have been the key to our season.”
BEWARE: DON’T WISH TO HAVE THE BEST PITCHING STAFF
So you know how good pitching beats good hitting, right? Well, have you ever wondered how many national championships have been won by the best pitching staffs in the country? Here is a great article written by the NCAA’s Anthony Chiusano, which looks at that very subject. Check it out here…
MR. HARWELL, THIS ONE’S FOR YOU
Legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell was honored by Wayne State University in Michigan as their new $2.3 million baseball facility now bears the name of the famous play-by-play man for the Tigers. Here is an article from USAToday.com about the naming of the new facility of the late golden-throat who passed away in 2010:
And in case you are wondering, here are the 10 most famous sayings that Harwell coined while behind the mic from 1960 to 2002:
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE BASEBALL HISTORY
One of the entries I included in my daily On This Day in College Baseball that I post on twitter (@Stitch_Head) was about one of the ugliest days in college baseball history. On April 23rd, 1999 Wichita State’s Ben Christensen deliberately threw a warm-up pitch at Evansville’s Anthony Molina, who was taking warm-up swings before the first pitch of the game. The ball hit Molina in the face, breaking three bones and requiring numerous eye operations to repair his vision. It also ruined any kind of hopes for a professional baseball career for the EU leadoff hitter.
Here is a recap of what happened and some of the aftermath…
EIGHT FOR OMAHA.
If the season ended today, these are the teams that would be getting their fair share of Zesto
– Oregon State
– North Carolina
– Missouri State