College Baseball Thoughts Heading Into The Season’s Home Stretch
The “weekend” starts early this week. With most conference tournaments starting next Tuesday and Wednesday the start of the last week of most conference regular season series will start this Thursday instead of Friday. In fact, so many conferences are starting on Thursday this week (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big East to name a few) the Big 12 is about the only conference that is sticking with its regular Friday, Saturday, Sunday schedule.
The MEAC starts its tournament this Thursday. It would be a major upset if Bethune-Cookman doesn’t win the championship. The top-seeded Wildcats (32-18, 18-0) are one of just two teams in the six-team field with a winning record (North Carolina A&T at 25-23 overall & 15-3 in league play is the other). BC’s Peter O’Brien leads the MEAC and is tied for fourth in the nation with 19 home runs.
What happened to Portland? Just two weeks ago the Pilots were the nation’s feel good story heading into a home series with West Coast Conference leader San Diego. Winners of 11 straight heading into that showdown, they had a chance to make a case for at least an at-large NCAA berth and an outside chance to claim the WCC title. All that is gone now though. After being swept by San Diego, Portland (31-16) lost a mid-week game to Washington State and was swept again last weekend by San Francisco. That’s seven straight losses heading into Wednesday’s (5/18) home game vs. Oregon. Ben Roethlisberger has about as much of a chance at being named Georgia’s Man of the Year as Portland now has to get an NCAA bid.
What happened to the Big Ten? A year ago at this time there were three Big Ten teams that had a legitimate chance to receive an NCAA bid, and that’s how many bids the league ended-up with. Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana all went to regionals, while Illinois just missed out after the Hoosiers won the conference tournament. There won’t be three bids for the Big Ten this year though. All ten teams are still in contention for the six spots in the conference tournament, but only the tourney winner will be NCAA bound this year. Minnesota (25-27, 13-8) leads the conference, while Michigan State (32-17, 10-11) has the best overall record, but sits in a four-way tie for fifth place
heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
Speaking of Ohio State…The Buckeyes have to be the biggest disappointment in the conference. OSU returned the conference Player and Pitcher of the Year (Dan Burkhart and Alex Wimmers, respectively) from last year’s regular season championship team, but they have floundered their way to a 27-21 overall mark, including 10-11 in conference play. And if head coach Bob Todd was hoping for a “Corky Palmer effect” by announcing his retirement it hasn’t worked. Palmer’s Southern Mississippi squad ran a hot streak all the way to Omaha after he announced his retirement before season’s end last year, but Todd’s Buckeyes have gone 3-4 with series losses to Illinois and Iowa since he announced his impending retirement on May 5.
Kansas finds itself in a rough situation this weekend. As they head into this weekend’s regular season ending series with Oklahoma, most current bracket projections have the Jayhawks (31-21 DI record, #54 NCAA RPI) staying home for the NCAA Tournament. A look at the stats shows this year’s team is not much different than last year’s team that finished 39-24 after playing at the Chapel Hill Regional. This year’s respective team batting average and ERA of .303 and 5.15 are pretty similar to the 2009 marks of .301 and 4.46. The biggest difference appears to be the absence of the big bat Tony Thompson provided when he won the Big 12’s first triple crown by hitting .389 with 21 home runs and 82 RBIs. He was one of two Jayhawks to hit double-digit dingers last year, but so far no KU player has reached even 10 long balls in 2010. Thompson fractured his left knee cap before the season started, and he hasn’t been able to fully regain his form in the 33 games he’s played since his return to the field. Thompson is batting a respectable .325, but has just five home runs with 35 RBIs. He also hasn’t seen as many pitches to hit this year. After walking 21 times in 61 games and 247 at-bats as a sophomore, the junior has drawn 19 free passes in just 126 ABs this season.