MAC Baseball Opens Conference Play This Weekend

March 26, 2010
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A New CB360 Contributor Provides Insight

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It’s time to welcome a new contributor to Collegebaseball360.com.  Chris Webb follows everything that is college baseball in the state of Ohio on Buckeyestatebaseball.com.   Whether it’s Divsion I, II or III if it happens in college baseball in Ohio you’ll find it there.  Here’s a great preview of the six Ohio MAC teams heading into conference play.

The first five weeks have been full of ups and downs, twists and turns, upsets and letdown across the board for our MAC schools. As we hit week six of the Division I college baseball season, the upcoming weekend kicks off conference play in the MAC.

Where preseason MAC-East favorites Bowling Green and Kent State stumbled out of the gate before rebounding in the last few weekends, the division has a pair of teams that have flown under the radar in Akron and Miami, looking to take home a championship. Where Toledo is the only Ohio team in the conference, the Rockets have started fast and stayed strong, looking like a team on a mission. Back in the East, the Bobcats hope conference play welcomes the start of good fortunes.

Buckeye State prepares you for MAC play in our conference primer, giving the ins and outs of what has transpired, the players vital to their team’s success, and what to expect in the 2010 slate of conference games.

Akron (11-8)

Quick Facts:

Offensive: .313 (Average) 36 (Doubles), 3 (Triples), 20 (HR)  131 (RBI)  .463 (Slugging) .381 (On-base) 6-10 (Stolen bases)
Pitching/Defensive: 5.36 (ERA) 3 (Saves) 100 (Strikeouts) 64 (Walks) .306 (Batting Average Against), 28 (Errors), .962 (Fielding Percentage)

Non-conference Recap

The Zips ride into MAC play higher than any other team.  With modest expectations in the preseason, a fifth-place finish in the MAC-East preseason coaches poll, Akron certainly has exceeded expectations. A revamped pitching rotation, players emerging from injuries, and strong leadership has fueled the Zips fast start.

Centerfielder/closer Drew Turocy has been a one-man wrecking ball, after missing the 2009 season with Tommy-John surgery. The red-shirt sophomore leads Akron in batting average, RBI, stolen bases, and saves. Providing power behind Turocy is fellow outfielder senior Jake Plata. Plata launched five of his team-high seven home runs over Akron’s spring break, leading him to receive Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week honors. The senior trio of captains, shortstop Kevin Haas, DH Kyle Hallett, and first baseman Brian Kordal all boast averages north of .300 in hopes of ending their career with their first MAC tournament appearance.

On the mound Akron has a quartet of reliable starting pitchers as it’s disposal. In Andrew Brown, Ben Danzinger, Scott Foster, and Alex Loftin, Akron sports four pitchers with at least two wins, and ERA’s of 4.60 or lower. While sophomore closer Chris Bassitt remains out with an injury, Turocy has filled in nicely in the closer’s role picking up three saves to lead the club. Each start has averaged more than six innings per start, keeping the bullpen fresh and well-rested.

Akron’s best win of the year is a 13-11 victory on the road at New Mexico State in the lid-opener of a four game set. The Zips also have a victory over Minnesota, and two over UNC-Wilmington.

Expected Rotation

Alex Loftin: (3-2), 3.60 ERA, 35.0 IP, 25 K, 13 BB, .281 BAA

Andrew Brown: (3-2), 3.41, 31.2 21, 12, .297

Ben Danzinger: (2-2), 4.60, 31.1, 14, 7, .286

Closer: Drew Turocy (0-0), 5.06, 3 SV, 10.2, 13,  .310

Key Players

CF Drew Turocy: .411 (average), 3 (home runs), 21 (RBI), .622 (SLG), .419 (OBP), 3-3 (Stolen Bases)

SS Kevin Haas: .333, 1, 13, .429, .400

DH Kyle Hallett: .333, 1, 15, .444, .392

C John Turk: .322, 1, 7, .424, .373

OF Jake Plata: .267, 7, 27, .600, .360

MAC Expectations

Coming out of nowhere, as things stand of today, Akron would be the MAC’s representative in the NCAA post-season by many across the country. Pitching has led the resurgence of Pat Bangtson’s program with a deep and productive line-up to supplement. Not very aggressive on the bases, and outside of Plata, not overly powerful, the Zips scrape together runs with a solid plate approach and consistency at the dish.

Still, success of Akron will rest on the arms of their pitching staff. Being four-men deep, the depth and versatility will allow Bangtson multiple options in deciding how to approach a weekend, and keeping his team in a position to take every weekend series. While you cannot garner a Regional berth during MAC play, aligning yourself and having momentum going into the MAC Tournament will allow yourself a greater chance to succeed. Early results have led to have no reason to believe this cannot be the season Akron receives the conference’s automatic bid.

Bowling Green (6-9-1)

Quick Facts

Offensively: .321, 31, 9, 12, 11, .471, .395, 22-30

Pitching/Defensively: 7.02, 3, 89, 69, .315, 34, .942

Non-conference Recap

Going into MAC play, the Falcons are 6-9-1 with a weekend sweep of Eastern Kentucky being the bright spot so far. The offense has been what has powered Bowling Green so far and kept the team in almost every game. Getting On-Base has not been a problem for Bowling Green, maintaining a .395 OBP with the team batting average being a superb .321. Along with those stats the Falcons have amassed a gaudy .472 slugging percentage. Stud senior T.J. Blanton has six of the nine home runs hit so far by the Falcons along with a team high 19 of the 111 RBI’s recorded.

Unfortunately for Coach Danny Schmitz, the pitching staff has staggered through the non-conference portion of the schedule. While reliever Ross Gerdeman has amassed a 1.42 ERA over 19 innings pitched, the team as a whole have combined for an underwhelming 7.02 ERA. The staff have struck out 89 and walked 69 in 132 innings pitched and given up a .315 BAA.

Bowling Green has played a tough non-conference schedule so far, going to Kentucky on three separate weekend series to play Louisville, Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky. The team lost the first six games of the season before going down to Florida during spring break, where they were able to defeat Northeastern for the first win of the season. The squad was only able to play five games out of the eight scheduled due to rain, but went 3-1-1 over those five games.

Expected Rotation

Brennan Smith: (1-2), 11.57, 18.2, 15, 18, .388

Michael Frank: (0-1), 4.98, 21.2, 14, 6, .279

Kevin Leady: (2-1), 4.76, 22.2, 18, 7, .281

Key Players

OF T.J. Blanton: .456, 6, 19, .895, .484, 7-9

SS Jon Berti: .397, 0, 8, .476, .441, 10-12

OF/C Ryan Schlater: .396, 1, 13, .566, .444, 2-3

2B Logan Meisler: .351, 0, 13, .566, .465

MAC Expectations

Offensively the Falcons should be able to slug it out with any team that comes their way in-conference, they have scored seven or more runs in 10 of the 16 games played so far. T.J. Blanton is a player to look out for and will be in contention for player of the year in the MAC conference. The senior belted four home runs in the Eastern Kentucky series, all on the same day during a double-header. The 2009 Academic All-MAC selection has a .895 slugging % so far and is hitting .456. Speedy lead off hitter Jon Berti leads the team with 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts, with Blanton the only other player on the team who has attempted to steal more than three stolen bases, swiping seven bags in nine attempts.

If Bowling Green is to win their third straight MAC Regular Season title, it is the pitching staff that will be the key for that is the most glaring weakness. The starting rotation consists of Brennan Smith, Michael Frank, and Kevin Leady, whose combined average ERA is a 7.10 over 63 innings pitched. The bullpen is led by Ross Gerdeman and Patrick Martin who have given up a combined seven runs in 31.2 innings of relief. For as potent as the bats have been for Bowling Green, the pitching has been just as shaky having allowed a .408 OBP and collected a WHIP of 1.81 so far.

Kent State (9-12)

Quick Facts

Offensively: .281, 55, 7, 17, 114, 439, .362, 17-25

Pitching/Defensive: 5.72, 3, 130, 110, .289, 24, .971

Non-conference Recap

The general thought regarding Kent State going into the season was talented, but young, especially on the mound. Nothing shows the youth of team more than inconsistencies. Where the Flashes would have a solid weekend at the plate, the performance on the mound was less than desirable. When the pitching came through, the bats were cold. Playing a challenging schedule out of the gate doesn’t help either. Though Coach Scott Stricklin sets the bar high for his program, he understands the battles his team faces.

“Every program in the North sees inconsistencies early in the season. Errors, bad base running, bad plate approaches, struggles on the mound, its comes with playing outside for the first few weeks. It’s tough to play three games then sit for a week. Now that we’re playing midweek games, you’re seeing guys come around” Stricklin in the sixth season stated.

Still the skipper expects more from his players. “They have to know they’re accountable not to just themself, but to the team” Stricklin added in regards to players needing improvement. Needing hardly any improvement is sophomore shortstop Jimmy Rider who Stricklin referred to as Kent State’s most consistent playing. With a .376 average headed into MAC player, its hard to disagree. Anthony Gallas and Travis Shaw have provided the Flashes with power, each swatting five home runs. Ben Klafczynski and Jared Humphrey’s each are hitting over .300 as mainstays in the order.

The individual success at the plate has yet to be matched on the mound.  With four starters who have started at least three games each, none sport an ERA below 6.00. Robert Sabo, Ryan Mace, David Starn, and Kyle Hallock have had their ups and downs but will be the group Stricklin counts on.

“We have four guys for three spots. We’ll use the midweek games to determine who will be the three that start and who goes to the bullpen, right now nothing has been determined” Stricklin stated.

“All have been good at times, all have been bad at times as well. what plays an important role as well is who can be the best out of the bullpen. The first guy out (of the bullpen) is very important” the coach added.

With Starn, and Mace being sophomores experiencing heavy playing time for the first time, bumps were expected. In addition to Hallock, and Sabo, a red-shirt junior who was drafted in 2009, the group is talented. Only time will tell if the on-the-fly learning will allow the pitching staff to lead the Flashes to prominence.

Expected Rotation

David Starn: (2-1), 6.59, 27.1, 23, 11, .359

Robert Sabo: (1-3), 6.12, 25.0, 19, 15, .296

Ryan Mace: (0-2), 6.26, 23.0, 11, 6, .235

Closer: Brett Weibley (1-1), 2.00, 2, 12.0, 8, 10, .194

Key Players

SS Jimmy Rider: .376, 1, 15, .505, .431, 4-6

2B/OF Jared Humphreys: .307, 1, 13, .500, .384, 4-7

OF Ben Klafczynski: .318, 0, 11, .412, .392, 1-1

OF Anthony Gallas: .310, 5, 25, .583, .398, 2-2

1B/3B Travis Shaw: .302, 5, 18, .547, .380

MAC Expectations

Surprising as it might sound, hitting and not pitching is the current worry around the Kent area. With a team that has a collective average of .281, the offense does have room for improvement. Golden Flash faithful hope a strong showing in the Coca-Cola classic, the last weekend before conference play, carries over into MAC competition.

After scoring 26 runs in the final two games, Stricklin is pleased with what he saw. “It was good to finally swing the bats. We think and feel we’re a good offensive team, but we haven’t shown that we are. We’re trying to teach and need our players to be more consistent, and we think they’ll coming around” Stricklin proclaimed.

Still it is hard to overlook the questions reside in the pitching staff. Having lost a lot of innings due to graduation and the MLB Draft following the 2009 season, the quartet of starting pitches have yet to prove they can be successful game in and game out. With flashes of brilliance here and there, the potential is there, but will 2010 yield a season of production.

You can never count out a Stricklin-led team, but there is reason to view Kent State with caution. Nonetheless Stricklin feels his team is ready for conference play. “They know whats at stake. They know to reach NCAA postseason play you have to win the conference tournament, and how you play now will shape your odds of getting there and succeeding.”

Miami (9-10)

Offensively: .287, 33, 5, 20, 131, .441, .353, 25-26

Pitching/Defensively: 7.33, 5,  114, 56, .338, 22, .967

Non-conference Recap

Entering MAC play with the conference’s toughest non-conference schedule to date, Miami has had its ups and downs, but have fared well in the early portion of the 2010 schedule. Where injuries have sidelined two of the RedHakws top offensive threats in Bryce Redeker and Jon Edgington, other players have emerged providing head coach Dan Simonds with a multitude of options during conference play.

“Things feel pretty good. We would like them to be a bit better, but we’re feeling pretty good” Simonds stated. “For having just one home game, things have gone alright. Starting pitching we feel is pretty good, we have three quality starters, and we’ve been able t overcome a few injuries in Redeker and Edgington. Redeker had just hit for the cycle before going out for four weeks after the fourth game, but guys have stepped up.”

Of those who have stepped up, perhaps none more than two-way player Jordan Jankowski. Serving as a catcher and DH along with the team’s closer, Jankowski has been a forced with his .375 average. All-MAC outfielder Adam Eaton continues to add to a stellar career with a robust spring so far. In 19 games, Eaton has collected five doubles, three triples, five home runs and is a perfect 11-11 on the bases. Adam Weisenburger, Zak Hatfield, and Brad Gschwind all are hitting over .300 for a deep lineup.

On the mound the success hasn’t been as fortunate for the RedHawks who have a team ERA of 7.33. Still Simonds knows he has quality arms in the group. “We’ll have Tyler Melling (1-2, 9.11), Brooks Fiala (1-1, 8.20), and Mac Thoreson (1-1, 3.72) as our weekend guys” Simonds stated. While the numbers might appear less than desireable for a weekend rotation, Simonds feels they don’t tell the entire picture, especially when the tough non-conference schedule, which included games with Clemson, and Michigan State, along with weekend sets at Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette.

“Guys are now getting into rhythm. Baseball is a game of rhythm, of routine. With timing and the flow of games, getting back to having midweek games and guys in a set routine really helps.” Continuing Simonds would add “Our non-conference schedule prepares us for MAC play. Playing these clubs (Clemson and Auburn) exposes our weaknesses. It shows us what we need to work on, but we’re also going in there to win and it shows our guys we can complete with anyone.”

Expected Rotation

Tyler Melling: (1-1), 9.11, 26.2, 15, 6, .368

Brooks Fiala: (1-1), 8-20, 26.1, 14, 7, .330

Mac Thoreson: (1-1), 3.72, 9.2, 9, 1, .342

Closer: Jordan Jankowski (1-1), 6.52, 3, 9.2, 15, 6, .263

Key Players

DH/C Jordan Jankowski: .375, 3, 13, .675, .419

OF Adam Eaton: .342, 4, 21, .658, .437, 11-11

C Adam Weisenburger: .338, 3, 17, .559, .427

IF Zak Hatfield: .333, 1, 4, .521, .396, 2-2

IF Brad Gschwind: .311, 1, 13, .405, .378

MAC Expectations

While the RedHawks have had solid success against a tough schedule, there is still work to be down for Miami, mainly on the mound. Miami has a stout bullpen with a handful of relievers  posting sub-4.00 ERA’s but the rotation that Simonds is fond of, needs to live up to the billing.

Offensively Miami plays an aggressive brand of baseball that will keep them in most games. An already deep lineup gains more with the return of Edgington this weekend (.286, 6 RBI), and Redeker down the road. The depth provides Simonds with options, though the head coach isn’t too fond of having a roster consistently influx. Eaton will continue to be one of the MAC’s premier players and set the tone out of his leadoff spot.

As is the key to nearly every time in the MAC, pitching will lead the way for the RedHawks. Maybe not on the level to knock off the conference favorites, it would be foolish to count Miami out just yet. However, in the a fourth-place finish, right where the coaches tabbed them in the preseason, seems just.

Ohio (2-15)

Offensively: .277, 29, 3, 17, 91, .422, .358, 13-15

Pitching/Defensively: 7.48, 0, 96, 69, .345, 42, .936

Non-conference Recap

Few things have gone right for the Bobcats who enter the weekend’s action on a seven-game skid, losing 13 straight to Division I teams. With just two wins overall, one against DII West Virginia State one would think bright spots are hard to find. While true, the bright spots that are there shine and glimmer. Most notably is the season preseason All-American outfielder Gauntlett Eldemire is having. Through the 17 games, Eldemire’s .433 average leads the team, as does his eight doubles, 19 RBI, and six stolen bases.

Also enjoying success at the plate if Kris McDonough, and Robert Maddox who offer support and protection for Eldemire, having a combined six home runs and 24 RBI. Both reach base at a .392 clip. Where there are highs offensively, there are lows pitching.

The Bobcats’ top two pitchers Ryan Bores and Bryce Butt each have 0-4 ledgers on the year and ERA’s above 7.00. The rest of the staff has been serviceable, led by the Trimbur bothers. Brock has a 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings with Ben donning a 2.77 mark over 13 innings. The problem for coach Joe Carbone is very rarely do his relievers come in with the lead.

Expected Rotation

Bryce Butt: (0-4), 12.00, 18.0, 9, 4, .471

Ryan Bores: (0-4), 7.65, 20.0, 8, 9, .359

Seth Striech: (0-1), 9.64, 9.1, 5, 5, .325

Key Players

CF Gauntlett Eldemire: .433, 3, 19, .716, .519, 6-7

OF Kris McDonough: .340, 2, 7, .489, .392, 2-3

1B Robert Maddox: .329, 4, 17, .557, .392, 2-2

3B Bryan Barnes: .328, 2, 6, .534, .443

MAC Expectations

If you’re a Bobcat faithful you obviously are very worried about the pitching. If you’re a fan of baseball, you’re worried about the pitching. Where Ohio has a solid lineup, the starting pitching is prone to having nightmarish outings, putting the team in such a hole that a respectable day at the plate goes for naught.

MAC play gives new hope for Ohio who has had a lost season up to this date. In the game of baseball anything can happen, especially in a conference without proven success on mounds across the conference. Still it is hard to consider any situation that the Bobcats can threat the MAC-East favorites. However there is still reason to see Ohio play as Eldemire is an elite talent and one of the two best players in the MAC. The centerfielder is a joy to watch and has the potential to carry a team when hot. Just will the pitching provide the star with enough backing?

Toledo (11-7)

Offensively: .313, 50, 4, 20, 123, .495, .368, 23-31

Pitching/Defensively: 4.58, 4, 107, 76, .253, 27, .962

Non-conference Recap

Whereas the other five Ohio MAC programs play in the East Division, Toledo calls the West division home, though technically it is more eastward than Bowling Green. Geography aside the Rockets in the West brings balance to the MAC. Where three possibly four teams will duke it out in the East, Toledo will only have Ball State standing in their way of a West Division crown.

Coming into MAC play as the conference’s most complete team, the Rockets boast a team batting average of .313, and an ERA of 4.58. On both sides of the ball coach Cory Mee’s squad is getting it done. Where six Rockets are hitting better than .300, their power-hitting shortstop Jared Hoying comes into the weekend hitting just .274, but already has eight dingers on the year, along with five stolen bases. No team in the MAC has a power hitting speedster atop their line-up like Hoying who sets the table nicely for a lineup that has two .400+ hitters.

It gets better for Mee. On the mound Toledo like Akron, has a rotation with ERAs sub-.500. With Mike Hamann, Lincoln Rassi, and Kyle Shaw, Toledo sends out three pitchers capable of going the distance each time out. The trio is complimented by five relievers with ERAs under 4.00, including lights out closer Matt Zahel who has three saves in eight appearances.

Top to bottom Toledo has it all. Pitching, hitting, power, base running, the Rockets are off to an 11-7 start that has victories over Pittsburg, Winthrop, and two on the road at Cincinnati on it’s resume.

Expected Rotation

Kyle Shaw: (2-1), 4.98, 20.1, 13, 5, .247

Mike Hamann: (2-1), 2.92, 24.2, 20, 2, .241

Lincoln Rassi: (1-1), 4.87, 20.1, 9, 16, .222

Closer: Matt Zahel (0-1), 3.38, 3, 8.0, 8, 3, .294

Key Players

DH Matt Delewski: .425, 0, 8, .500, .442, 1-2

OF Jason Edwards: .400, 2, 7, .550, .435, 1-1

C Aaron Dudley: .371, 1, 11, .486, .430, 1-3

3B Joe Corfman: .343, 1, 15, .500, .390, 5-6

2B Tim Krofcheck: .309, 4, 15, .574, .399, 2-4

SS Jared Hoying: .274, 8, 22, .685, .357, 5-6

MAC Expectations

Like Akron in the East, pitching has led Toledo to be considered alongside Ball State as the West Division’s favorite, if not ahead of the Cardinals. The Rockets truly have everything needed to not only cruise through conference play, but win in the all important conference tournament and lock up the automatic bid. From hitting to fielding, pitching to running, Toledo has done everything well up to now.

Where the West Division is weaker than the East, providing the toughest challenge for Toledo might be complacency. Mee will need to keep his team from reading their clippings and staying focused on the field. It helps that the Rockets are a veteran team and should have no problem doing so. Nothing should keep Toledo from the MAC postseason, and once in the cards are in their favor.

A deep and good bullpen combined with a good rotation gives Toledo the upper hand over its competition. The batting order has numerous weapons, enough to overcome a slump here or there, as evident by Hoying’s slow start. Expect Toledo to cruise through the MAC-West, until the season’s final weekend when the Rockets play the Cardinals. It works in favor of Toledo that the season-ending series is at home, which gives us enough reason to think Toledo will be the West’s champs, from there the auto-bid and tournament championship is there for the taking.

Statistical Comparision

Team, W-L, AVG, ERA, RPI, SOS (As of March 25th)

Akron .313, 5.36, 11-8, 176, 189

Bowling Green .321, 7.02, 6-9-1,  121, 92

Kent State .281, 5.79, 9-12, 155, 120

Miami .287, 7.33, 9-10, 111, 70

Ohio .277, 7.48, 2-15, 282, 175

Toledo .313, 4.58, 11-7,  87, 159

David Arnold of Rollalongbaseball contributed with the Bowling Green Preview

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