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In Memoriam: 2014 Hurricanes Baseball

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

We will wrap up the 2014 Hurricanes Baseball Season by looking back at the 2014 season, and by also previewing the 2015 team.

2014 Year In Review

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We will used our tried and true question-answer format to review what was an up and down 2014 season.

Question: What was the highlight of the season?

AC: Can a highlight last a month? If so, then the stretch from late March through the end of April has to be it. But that feels too much like a non-answer. Specifically, the road sweep of Clemson was the point in the season where I thought this team had real potential to make some noise in the post-season. The ‘Canes pitching was excellent that weekend, giving up a combined 6 runs to what had been one of the hottest offenses in the ACC. This was the point in the season when the freshmen were at their best – Zack Collins was hitting absolutely everything, Willie Abreu had become a reliable bat in the top half of the order, and the bullpen combination of Cooper Hammond and Bryan Garcia were shutting down everyone.

VP: For me, it’s tough choice between Javi Salas’ perfect game and the Canes winning the ACC. But I will go with the Salas perfect game. That is something that you basically never see in sports, let alone in college baseball, and I might never see from a Cane again. I hope to see several more ACC titles.

Question: What was the lowlight of the season?

AC: It’s predictable, but it surely has to be the regional. Miami was gifted one of the easier draws and completely failed to capitalize, doing so in painfully inept fashion. While the ‘Canes lineup had certainly not been a juggernaut during the season, the sudden inability to work counts and get on base was supremely disappointing. It gets even worse when you take into account that Florida got bounced early in their regional, with 4-seed College of Charleston ultimately progressing to the Super Regional. Where they were promptly knocked out by Texas Tech with successive 1-0 losses.

VP: Obviously the regional. This is going to be a tough, tough one to get over. The seas parted and the team still managed to drown. The fact that it feels like they didn’t really give it their best go either, with horrid at bats, makes it even worse. I loved the way the team came together, ran off an absurd winning streak, and really clicked. It was all erased last weekend, and the memory of this season will certainly be the complete inability to score against Texas Tech.

Question: The Canes have failed to get out of the Regionals 5 out of the last 6 years, and last made the College World Series in 2008. What is wrong with this program?

AC: There’s really a number of issues at play here, but I think Miami had recruited very poorly for a few years. The ‘Canes would get a number of high-ranking “commitments” who would go early in the MLB draft and never make it to campus. That falls on Morris and his staff to identify the level of talent that are of Miami’s level but are still likely to sign. He seems to have found his way somewhat with this last recruiting class, but the lack of reliable bats is a testament to poor recruiting tactics for the last 5 years.

VP: It’s hard to pinpoint. The pitching was good enough to not only get out of this regional, but to do so easily. I think there is some sort of mental block here now. This is a team that expects to go to Omaha, and the longer they go without doing so, the more the pressure builds. When the Canes won the ACC Regular Season, it appeared they hit a brick wall. Batters began pressing, and the results showed. They went 4-4 since then, and the performances at the plate were atrocious. I don’t think that is coincidental.

How to break out of this cycle of failure is a different, more difficult question. I don’t know if there is answer to that. You can’t even say playing a bit better to get a national seed would have helped. The Canes got a winnable regional and would have hosted the Super Regional since Charleston won the Gainesville Regional. This was just a massive failure to do the same things that successfully carried them this year. And we can’t prove any problem is “fixed” until next year, when they reach this same stage. I don’t know how to “fix” it, because it was so anemic. In the past we can point to specific instances of bunting unnecessarily or poor lineup choices that resulted in low run totals. The Canes weren’t even getting base runners this weekend.

Question: Does Jim Morris need to be replaced and/or retire?

AC: I have been on the ‘Morris is not helping this program’ bandwagon for a couple years, and while he started to give me reason to jump off this season, the way the year ended certainly makes me think about it. I am never going to accuse someone of not caring enough or anything like that, because that’s essentially impossible to assess from our vantage point as fans. But the struggles over the past few seasons have been about fundamentals – baserunning mistakes, poor fielding, lack of discipline at the plate, etc. These are the signs of an unprepared team. And when you compound that with the aforementioned inability to recruit capable hitters, it can really drag a program down. I’m of the mentality that Morris should get next season to show some progress, even with major upheaval next season for the pitching staff (more on that in part 2).

VP: This is a tough one, because following on the previous question, it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is wrong.

First, obviously, Jim Morris is not getting fired. The Canes won the ACC. We can certainly point to a pattern of 6 years of substandard results and make a case for his dismissal. There is validity there, but the administration is not thinking that way, so we can forget that path.

But I think there are systemic issues. One of them is the over bunting and curious substitution patterns. The continual insistence on pinch running for Zach Collins when games are still in doubt, only to see the pinch runner not score and see the lineup turn over with the Canes missing their best bat. It actually became a running joke on twitter that every time that Lawroski came in as a pinch runner it meant the Canes wouldn’t score. While that might be comical, it is still massive problem. The Canes overcame a lot blunders from the managerial spot, something our Twitter friend @DaU_Canes nicknamed “Morris Law,” for the number of times a decision would be made that wouldn’t make sense, the decision actually would not work, but the Canes get away with it anyway (for example, pinch run for Collins, pinch runner gets thrown out on a base running error, next batter hits a home run, Canes win, no one remembers the massive managerial error).

JD Arteaga has been a fantastic pitching coach and this staff has carried this team for years, so nothing needs changing there. But I do think an addition of another coach with a different philosophy or perspective on the staff could be a huge boost to perhaps change the offensive approach. While the Canes offensive numbers leaped forward this year from previously pathetic levels, it still wasn’t nearly enough so we shouldn’t pretend like it is. The pitching is national championship quality, the offense as a whole isn’t, and a new perspective (not even firing of anyone, just an additional voice) could make a night and day difference. I would love to see some movement there. The fact that the Canes never changed approaches at the plate while they chased balls into a shutout loss to end the season is all the proof I need that some new blood/perspective of some sort is necessary.

Editor’s Note: Just before publishing this, we found out that Jim Morris has received a contract extension through 2018.

Question: The Canes struggles at the plate seemed to coincide with David Thompson’s surprise return from injury. Did David Thompson’s return negatively impact the team?

AC: I don’t think it should have had too much of an impact. I do think that, as fans, we overrated Thompson a little bit last season just because he stood out as the one of two semi-capable hitters (Chantz Mack the other) in a crappy lineup. I don’t think his return had any detrimental effect on the team from a chemistry standpoint, but his struggles at the plate upon returning (not surprising, given the injury he sustained) certainly did not help matters.

VP: I don’t know if that is fair. Thompson actually had the only 2 RBI against Texas Tech this weekend out of all 3 games.

If you look at the Canes season, they spent much of it making the clutch hit, and scoring the clutch run. This was not a rake the ball, blow out opponents team. It was always get ridiculous pitching, get just enough hitting. There were instances of offensive explosion, for sure. But I don’t think anyone ever expected Miami to score more than 4 or 5 runs. We just expected that to be enough (and it would have been this weekend).

So how did it get so anemic all of a sudden? I don’t think it was really all of a sudden. I think Abreu was a huge bat this season but he had hit a freshman slump. If you recall, the season started with Collins being a complete disaster and Abreu as the Canes best hitter. The team only took off when Collins got going so they had the Abreu-Collins combo. Yes, this also coincided with Thompson’s injury, but to me, the reason for that boost was that Abreu and Collins were both hitting. That provided base runners, RBI, everything.

Abreu’s swoon started before Thompson returned, and that is when the Canes did start to struggle. They were still winning series, but the last 2 home series before Thompson returned the Canes lost games to Notre Dame (who didn’t even make the ACC Tournament) and Alabama State. With the team still winning more often than not, it was very easy to ignore warning signs. They crystallized this weekend and came to a head. I think Thompson serves as more of a scapegoat than anything else. He replaced a struggling Fieger in the lineup. The Canes relied on the top of the order for so much this year, that when Abreu slumped and Carey struggled in the regional, there was nothing there. Also, losing the Diaz start was the killer, because if Miami goes 2 of 3 against Texas Tech throwing Diaz, Suarez then Radziewski, I think they win easily. Instead, they ended up only throwing one of those against Texas Tech (another curious managerial decision was to burn Radziewski against Bethune-Cookman), and while both Salas and Beauprez were excellent, there is a mental comfort the Canes hitters enjoy knowing one of their Big 3 guns are on the mound, and perhaps that alleviates some of the pressing we saw.

Overall, I think the Canes struggled a bit, then completely exacerbated the problem by pressing, losing fundamentals, having poor at bats, and that vicious cycle lead to the anemic performance. It wasn’t one thing or one player, but collective team panic.

2015 Too Early Preview

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In this section, we will look at what returns on the mound and at the plate, and where the Canes will need to fill holes.

PITCHING

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Key Losses

The ‘Canes will lose all 4 of their starting pitchers from this past season. Javi Salas’ has graduated, and Andrew Suarez, Chris Diaz, and Bryan Radziewski will all likely forego their final year of eligibility and sign an MLB contract, after each were drafted in the first 9 rounds. As far as contributors, nobody else is expected to be gone. A.J. Salcines, who started his UM career so well before having some struggles and ultimately disappearing completely, will be gone after graduating.

New Arrivals

The gem of the Hurricanes’ recruiting class (at least at pitcher) is left-handed pitcher Brian Gonzalez from Archbishop McCarthy in Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately for the ‘Canes, he was drafted in the 3rd round by the Baltimore Orioles and is not likely to turn down their offer. Keven Pimentel could be a freshman that makes an early impact – he is a big right-handed pitcher who can reach 94 with his fastball, but works in the 90-93 range. He was high on MLB scouts’ boards last year, but got injured and will now look to show his stuff at UM. Jesse Lepore is another tall right-hander who could come in and earn a starting spot in a wide-open rotation, he doesn’t have a lot of power but has shown to be very consistent in Perfect Game events. Michael Mediavilla is a local kid from Hialeah who had a strong Junior season but fell off slightly as a Senior. He also played 1B in high school and might project better there. Other incoming freshmen include LHP Luke Spangler and RHP Devin Meyer.

Expected Starters

We might as well put a big question mark here. We can only make guesses as to who will fill out the rotation, but probably the one guy that we feel confident will be one of the weekend pitchers is Derek Beauprez. Beauprez got a few starts in the midweek this season and was Morris’ 5th starter in the regional, doing all that was asked of him in terms of limiting Texas Tech. Bryan Garcia, the ‘Canes Freshman All-American closer, could get the opportunity to start, as he showed the ability to get 6 or even 9 out saves at times. Thomas Woodrey is another option, as he became one of the few reliable bullpen arms that Miami used down the stretch. After that, it’s all up in the air. The ‘Canes will hope that one of the incoming freshman, or perhaps someone from last year’s recruiting class, can step up and fill the major void left by Suarez, Diaz, and Radziewski.

Expected Bullpen

Whoever does not move up from their bullpen role to a starter will likely anchor the Miami bullpen, and it will mostly be filled out by the incoming freshman arms. One guy that we do expect to stay in the bullpen is Cooper Hammond, whose side-arm delivery will function best as a specialist late in games. In an ideal world, the ‘Canes would keep Bryan Garcia as their closer and love having someone who can finish the job in close games. But given the massive exodus of starting pitching, his talents might be better served as a starter.

HITTING

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Key Losses
CF – Dale Carey
1B/DH – Brad Fieger
2B – Alex Hernandez
PR – Jon Lawroski
LF – Tyler Palmer
1B – Brad Zunica
Bolded represent players that were regular starters in 2014.

Returning Starters
RF – Willie Abreu
C/DH – Zach Collins
C – Garrett Kennedy
SS – Brandon Lopez
3B – Johnny Ruiz
1B – David Thompson

2015 Outlook

The Canes return 6 regular starters, and have 3 massive losses, including the 1-2 hitters (Carey and Palmer) as well as their best infielder (Hernandez). To replace them, there are solutions within the team.

They will need 2 outfielders to step up. The leading candidates are Sophomore Ricky Eusebio (who filled in well when injuries hit this team hard) and Freshman Jacob Hayward (who was used as a pinch hitter in the Regional). Ideally, Miami would like both of those pacy players to set the table, and then get Collins, Thompson and Abreu in the 3-4-5 hole to become a murderer’s row. The potential is there, but all 3 never got going at the same time this year

The leading candidate to replace Hernandez is Edgar Michelangeli who filled in well for an injured Johnny Ruiz this year at 3rd base. We could also see Laz Rivera who saw some time this in an expanded role. Freshman Sebastian Diaz featured as a defensive substitution occasionally this year, so he would be a 3rd option.

Another thing to watch is what happens with catcher/DH. Garrett Kennedy will return, but if he doesn’t improve at the plate and someone else steps up, Zach Collins can definitely catch and allow any of the other positional players mentioned here to DH.

Finally, we don’t know the recruiting class yet since we don’t know who will end up on campus, but there might be a potential starter or 2 there, especially since DH could be open.

Way Too Early Potential 2015 Lineup
1) Ricky Eusebio – CF
2) Jacob Hayward – RF
3) Zach Collins – DH
4) David Thompson – 1B
5) Willie Abreu – LF
6) Johnny Ruiz – 3B
7) Brandon Lopez – SS
8) Edgar Michelangeli – 2B
9) Garrett Kennedy – C

Signing off for 2014

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This is Vishnu writing this part, and I wanted to wrap the season by giving a special mention to a few things and people that make our work possible (some tongue in cheek):

1) People that actually attend games and take pictures. Neither Adam nor I are able to attend many games, so we rely on the eyewitness photos to spruce up these articles and also more vividly describe the action. This is much more important in baseball because there is often no TV coverage for us to fall back on. The foundation of any blog is always built on real reporters doing real reporting, and without those reporters out there, we would basically be have nothing to write on.

2) FAU, for having what is far and away the most difficult web site to navigate of any athletic department I’ve ever seen. http://www.fausports.com/ Why is that web site wave themed? Why does running your mouse over the top menu cause a huge wave to come crashing down and block the screen? These are questions that might never be answered. But Adam and I always secretly hope to not have to do the FAU piece of a preview just cause of this.

3) Sergio Ramos.

4) The dedicated Hurricanes Baseball Fans on twitter. We interact with a handful of you regularly, you know who you are (there might be a Moose involved). But it certainly makes watching the games significantly more enjoyable and motivates us to write quality previews and reviews. Also, your feedback did drive some of the questions that were answered in the first section.

5) Argh!

6) Over the last 2 weeks of the busiest time of the Canes season, Adam went to England, and my sister got married, so we were both “out of pocket” so to speak for the last week of the season and the ACC Tournament. But Adam wrote updates from England and help hold everything together so no one even noticed. I get a lot of credit for this site as the main editor and only one who contributes across all sports, but it would be impossible to run without our staff of writers since we all hold down full time jobs and do this as a hobby.

Thus ends another Canes baseball season, much sooner than any of us wanted. We will be back soon (after a brief “offseason” hiatus) as we began our lead up to the football season with previews. So stay tuned and thank you to the people that visit this site on a weekly basis. Go Canes!

ncaatexastechmiami

Bats Falter as Canes Crash out of Coral Gables Regional

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

This is probably the most disappointing moment for Hurricanes Baseball since Carlos Gutierrez’s throw to 1st sailed past Yonder Alonso in the 2008 College World Series, as one of the best teams in NCAA history lost the opening game on their way to crashing out of the tournament.

That the bracket opened up entirely with Charleston winning the Gainesville Regional will rub salt in fresh wounds. The anemic hitting performance will remind hardened Canes fans of last year’s Boston College debacle.

Ironically, the troubles could first be seen in the Canes opening game against Bethune-Cookman. While Miami won 1-0, they failed to generate offense, finally scoring in the bottom of the 9th on a wild pitch for a walk-off win. Andrew Suarez dealed a complete game shutout.

Those struggles continued Saturday in the winner’s bracket game, as Miami lost to Texas Tech 3-0. Chris Diaz had the audacity to allow 3 earned runs in 7.1 IP, and picked up his first loss of the year to conclude his season at 9-1.

Tasked with winning 3 games in a row to save the season, the Canes once again met Bethune-Cookman. This time, the bats awoke (for the only time this weekend), as Zach Collins hit 2 HRs and Miami won 10-0. Bryan Radziewski threw another complete game shutout.

Javi Salas got the ball on Sunday’s do or die game with Texas Tech, and pitched into and out of trouble, finally settling in having allowed just 1 run in 5.0 innings of work. That’s when rain fell, and the there were 3 separate rain delays with the game finally called just before midnight. At that time, Texas Tech lead 1-0 and was 5 outs from eliminating the Canes.

When the game resumed, the Canes awoke with it, finally plating a run on an RBI groundout from David Thompson to knot the game. But double plays ended that rally and a subsequent rally in the 9th, and the game went to extra innings. Finally, a big hit arrived again from Thompson, as he doubled in Palmer to give the Canes a 2-1 lead. Miami failed to capitalize further despite having the bases loaded and 1 out, but it was enough for Bryan Garcia who went 3 innings for a 2-1 win.

The final game of the regional saw freshman Derik Beauprez deal a magnificent 4 shutout innings. The ball then went to Cooper Hammond, who would unfortunately pick up the loss. The game was still scoreless in the top of the 7th, when the Canes finally cracked. With runners on 1st and 2nd, and 1 out, Texas Tech laid down a bunt that Garrett Kennedy threw past David Thompson, allowing a run to score and moving another runner to 3rd. A sacrifice fly (which would have ended the inning without a score if no error was made) brought him home, and the Red Raiders lead 2-0. Miami threatened in the 7th, getting runners to 1st and 2nd with 1 out, but a feeble groundout into a double play ended the threat.

Miami never got close again, and when the Red Raiders plated 2 insurance runs in the 9th, the game ended 4-0. Texas Tech starter Cameron Smith threw a complete game shutout.

It was really a tale of 2 weekends. The Canes pitching was superb. For the weekend, the Canes staff went 46 innings and allowed 6 earned runs, an absurd 1.17 ERA. And yet they lost twice and had two 1-run wins, such was the lack of run production. This will be a bitter pill to swallow for everyone, as Omaha was right there. Texas Tech is one of the top hitting teams in the country, yet Miami allowed 5 earned runs to them in 28 innings, and lost 2 of 3.

Of particular frustration has to be the lack of plate discipline and the poor nature of the at bats. Hitting can come and go, but the Canes plate approach was naive, to put it mildly. Time and again, they would chase pitches out of the zone, try to pull outside pitches, and pop up or ground into double plays. The one notable exception to this against Texas Tech was the resumed rain delayed game. The Canes came out with a great approach, worked counts, and threatened every inning. While they only scored 2 runs, they could have easily put up 6 or 7. This certainly gave a false hope that the disciplined, measured approach we’d seen all year would return. It did not.

The lefty Smith just nibbled on the corner away to righties, who played right into his hands trying to pull what were mostly balls. The one exception was Dale Carey, who rightly judged that Smith was not really hitting the zone, and managed to walk 3 times. Everyone else decided to try and hit what were ostensibly balls, and the results were always going to be poor from there.

A golden opportunity slipped away. Frankly, the reason the Canes used to be regulars in Omaha was that they would never let these chances pass. Even when the team wasn’t great, when presented with an opportunity they took it. This seems to all be going in the opposite direction, and this time, a team that legitimately had everything there, including an open road to Omaha, to achieve greatness, went out with an undisciplined and naive plate approach that they failed to rectify over 5 games. This will be a long offseason to think over what might have been and could have been.

But while there is temptation to view this more as a 1-off, bad luck weekend, the larger pattern cannot be ignored. Miami has not been to Omaha since 2008. They have been eliminated in the regionals 5 out of 6 years, twice at home. 1 Super Regional appearance in 6 years is totally unacceptable. Set up like this, with a 4-seed waiting in a Super Regional that the Canes would have hosted, and failing because they could not generate runs against an average pitching team while their own staff held down one of the best hitting teams in the country is hard to fathom. It makes one think if there is something far more rotten with the program than simply making tweaks and adjustments, and whether something is fundamentally broken.

We will have a recap of this season and a look ahead to 2015 later in the week on Sebastian’s Pub.

 

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The Coral Gables Regional

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

After a disappointing week in the ACC Tournament, the Canes were picked to host a regional. The other participants: (2) Texas Tech, (3) Columbia, and (4) Bethune-Cookman.

On the other side of this regional bracket is the #2 National Seed Florida Gators. While Miami will feel a bit slighted that they missed out on a national seed, it could easily be argued that the Gators received a tougher regional with (2) Long Beach State, (3) North Carolina, and (4) College of Charleston.

The winners of the Gainesville and Coral Gables regionals will meet next week. The Gators will host that super regional if they are still in the tournament, but if they fail, the Canes will be able to host that super regional (provided they, of course, survive).

There is a bit of other housekeeping. Freshman Brad Zunica has left the program and will be transferring. While he has struggled immensely this year, this is still a loss given Zunica’s size and that he filled in okay at times this year. He is a bat that the Canes would like to have in the postseason just in case.

The other note is that a minor finger injury is hampering Chris Diaz and might force him down the rotation. As is tradition, Jim Morris will throw his second starter Andrew Suarez on Friday, but the Game 2 starter is up in the air with Diaz’s issues. We might also see Bryan Radziewski in that spot, despite Morris’ assurances that Diaz is recovered.

For this preview, we will look at all 3 opponents, but the only known opponent is Bethune-Cookman on Friday. All games this weekend will be televised on ESPN3.

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#2 Texas Tech

The biggest challenge to Miami this weekend will likely come from the Red Raiders. Texas Tech finished 4th in the Big XII with a 14-10 record, and were 40-18 overall. They went out from the Big XII tournament in 2 games, losing the opener to Texas 8-3, and then following that up with a loss to an awful Oklahoma team after blowing an 8-3 8th inning lead to lose 9-8. Of particular note is that Texas Tech did win 2 series against National Seeds, winning 3 of 4 against Indiana and 2 of 3 against TCU.

We don’t really know what strategy Texas Tech will employ with their pitching, or whether they will even play Miami, so it makes sense to look at their pitching staff. Their rotation is very unsettled. But they did give a hint, listing Chris Sadberry, their LHP with a 4-2 record, and 3.45 ERA as the starter for the Columbia game. That means Miami will likely not see him.

The other regular, full-time starter for Texas Tech is Dylan Dusek who is 6-0 with a 2.35 ERA. Other than that, the Red Raiders use a committee approach to starters, with Dominic Moreno (4-5, 3.17 ERA), Corey Taylor (5-3, 2.68 ERA), and Matt Withrow (3-3, 5.65 ERA) as the other starters with at least 6 starts. Several other pitchers have 3 starts.

Out of the bullpen, their best options are “closers” Jonny Drozd (3 saves, 6-0, 2.14 ERA) and Ryan Moseley (3 saves, 1-2, 3.86 ERA). Drozd is probably the best arm on the entire team, and is also capable of eating several innings if necessary.

At the plate, Texas Tech is dangerous. They lead the Big XII in batting average, slugging and are second in OBP, while slugger Eric Gutierrez lead the conference in HRs and RBI. Another player to watch out for his Tyler Nelsony, who hit .412 and has 31 RBI. Controlling Nelsony will be key, since he hits right in front of Gutierrez, and if Gutierrez is going to slug a home run, you want it to happen with no one on base.

Overall, Texas Tech is a strong team from a good conference. Their RPI numbers are very similar to Miami’s, and they have proven capable of beating national seed quality teams. All of those should be warning signs for the Canes if they end up having to face the Red Raiders. But Texas Tech is also appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade, and is not necessarily deep on the mound, so the Canes would certainly be favored against Texas Tech.

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#3 Columbia

The Ivy League Champions made the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, finishing the year strong to set a school record with 29 wins. Much like Miami, the Lions had a strong second half of the season, winning 21 of their last 24 games, including 15 straight at one point. While they certainly picked up their play as the year went on, some of that success can likely be attributed to a change in competition – Columbia was 15-5 in Ivy League play, but 14-13 against all other opponents.

According to their athletics website, Columbia intends to hold back their ace David Speer for later in the tournament instead of their first game against Texas Tech. Speer, who went 7-2 this season with 6 complete games and a 1.86 ERA, was named the Ivy League pitcher of the year. With a fastball topping out in the mid-80s, Speer relies on his great control (75 Ks vs 7 walks in 87 innings) to keep opponents at bay. If the Canes and Lions meet in the winner’s bracket game, it will likely be a battle of aces.

At the plate, freshman Will Savage leads the team in average, and both he and Jordan Serena represent a major small-ball threat – they are a combined 39/45 on stolen base attempts. Gus Craig (6 home runs) and David Vandercrook (5) are the biggest power threats in the lineup, but they are not the only ones. Columbia actually has 20 home runs as a team, spread between 6 players.

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#4 Bethune Cookman

Miami will face Bethune-Cookman in their first game of the Coral Gables regional, in what will serve as the third meeting between the two teams this year. Both games were in Coral Gables, and each team has won once – Bethune-Cookman upset the ‘Canes 7-3 in March, and the ‘Canes returned the favor a few weeks later with a 10-1 victory.

Bethune made the NCAA tournament as the champions of the MEAC Tournament, and as such enters as one of only three teams in the field of 64 with a losing record (26-31). That does not mean that Miami should discount them altogether. Bethune will send out their ace, Montana Durapau, who has already beaten Miami this year. Durapau, who has an 11-1 record and a 1.71 ERA, is more than capable of stifling the ‘Canes offense. He also tends to pitch deep into games, important for Bethune-Cookman because they lack any notable arms out of the bullpen. For the Tigers, it’s likely Durapau or bust against the ‘Canes.

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Predictions

Adam’s Take

Despite the struggles last week in the ACC Tournament, I’m still confident in this ‘Canes team about getting out of this regional, especially when it was announced Monday who the ‘Canes would face. Texas Tech is a solid 2-seed, but most people expected Columbia to be a 4-seed (while the 4-seed in Florida’s bracket, College of Charleston, was expected by many to be a 3-seed). Meanwhile, Bethune-Cookman has an RPI of 202 and, as we mentioned above, is one of only 3 teams in the tournament with a losing record. Needless to say, the ‘Canes got a favorable draw.

While Miami did lose to Bethune-Cookman earlier this season, I look at it a bit differently because of the circumstances. That was the game that Javi Salas started one week after his perfect game… and promptly gave up 6 runs in the first inning en route to a 7-3 loss. The ‘Canes actually got to Durapau somewhat in that game, getting 3 runs on 9 hits, while the bullpen shut down BCC the rest of the night. Salas wasn’t even expecting to start that night, it was a last second switch by Morris, who thought the following day’s game would be rained out, and he didn’t want to miss Salas’ start. Miami is the better team here, they should beat Bethune-Cookman in the first game.

I will always like the ‘Canes chances in game 2 with Chris Diaz on the mound. Morris said this week that the finger injury that was nagging Diaz last week is recovered and that he’s ready to go. Diaz’s record this season speaks for itself, so even though either Texas Tech or Columbia would be throwing their ace here also, I expect the ‘Canes to get another victory and stay in the winner’s bracket.

From there, Miami would need just 1 more win, with 2 chances to get it. They would still have Bryan Radziewski and Javi Salas ready to go, and I find it hard to imagine them losing consecutive games against an opposing team’s 4th or 5th starter. It will be very important that the ‘Canes situational hitting returns to form after disappearing last week in the ACC tournament. With a few weeks back into his routine, hopefully David Thompson can provide some additional power in the lineup to complement the recent good form of Dale Carey and Zack Collins. I could see Miami dropping a game sometime this weekend, most likely from a poor showing at the plate, but I fully expect them to advance out of this regional. One step closer to Omaha.

Vishnu’s Take

Miami is certainly the favorite to get out of this regional, but the last time they hosted, they went 0-2 getting blown out twice. Bethune-Cookman is a known opponent. While Durapau is a good pitcher, I do like Miami to score some runs. And when BCC beat Miami earlier this year, it was with Miami throwing a midweek starter. Andrew Suarez hits the zone with some power, so I don’t think BCC will have much success scoring runs. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Suarez throws a complete game. The Canes win the opener.

I cannot believe that Columbia is holding back their ace, hoping to beat Texas Tech with a secondary starter. The Red Raiders can hit, so I think they beat Columbia setting up a winner’s bracket game between Texas Tech and Miami. I love Chris Diaz in that spot, and think Canes get enough runs to win that.

After that, the Canes still have B-Rad, and whoever emerges to play Miami will be on fumes in their pitching rotation. Canes win the 3rd game easily, go 3-0, and move on to the Super Regionals.

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ACC Tournament Review

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

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The ‘Canes went to Greensboro with high expectations – they had a chance to pair a tournament title with their regular season ACC Championship, and the chance to secure a national seed for the NCAA Tournament. They left without the former, and played their way out of the latter. Miami dropped the first two games of the tournament to Georgia Tech and Clemson, respectively, but managed to beat Duke in extra innings on Saturday to avoid going winless.

In Wednesday’s opener, Miami jumped out to 1-0 and 3-1 leads over Georgia Tech, but could not hold on. The script was flipped for the ‘Canes, who over the last two months always seemed to get the runs late in close games to pull away. Cooper Hammond struggled in relief, giving up 2 runs in the seventh inning that ultimately doomed Miami, who lost 6-3.

The ‘Canes had to feel good about their chances in game 2, with ace Chris Diaz on the mound. But the Miami offense simply did not do enough after scoring the first two runs in the 3rd inning. Clemson chipped away at the ‘Canes lead, with runs in the bottom of the 3rd and 6th innings, before getting the walk-off win against Miami closer Bryan Garcia.

Out of contention for the Championship game, but now simply looking not to get swept out of the tournament, the ‘Canes faced off against Duke on Saturday. In a entertaining, back-and-forth game, Miami ultimately emerged victorious 6-5 in extra innings. Miami struck for two runs in the first inning, and from there maintained a one or two run lead until the ninth inning. Bryan Garcia, who gave up the game winning run to Clemson, blew a save opportunity when he gave up a 2-run home run in the bottom of the ninth. It wasn’t until the 12th inning, when a pair of freshman gave the ‘Canes the win. Jacob Heyward laced a lead-off double and eventually scored on a wild pitch, and Zack Collins hit a solo home run for what turned out to be a vital insurance run. Duke got one back in the bottom of the inning, but Javi Salas entered to get the final out and the save.

A 1-2 week for Miami will be a disappointment, particularly because they will feel that they had every opportunity to win the first two games.  Had they done so, they might have hosted a super regional. Now, the only way that will happen is if UF does not win the Gainesville Regional. We will be back later in the week to preview all the teams in the regional.

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ACC Tournament Preview

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

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Miami won the ACC Regular Season title by 2 games over Virginia in the Coastal, and 3 games over FSU in the Atlantic. This earned them the #1 overall seed in this week’s ACC tournament.

The format for the tournament is changed this year. Teams ranked 8 through 10 will participate in play-in games on Tuesday. The winners of those 8 vs. 9 and 7 vs. 10 matchups will enter pool play, while the losers will go home after just 1 game.

After that, the same pool play format as in past years will take place. Each pool has 4 teams and each team will play each of the other teams in their pool one time. The team with the best record after those games will advance to Sunday’s Championship Game.

In the event of a tie, head-to-head will be the first tiebreaker, followed by regular season conference record. So, the Canes do have an advantage there as they will always win the second tiebreaker.*

*This assumes that the tiebreaker has not been changed from past years.

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#8 Wake Forest/

#9 Georgia Tech

Wednesday, 3 PM
NOTE: Games are televised regionally, so check your local listings. They are also available on ESPN3.

The Canes opening game will be against the winner of the 8 vs. 9 play-in game featuring Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Wake Forest is the only team in Pool A that Miami did not play during the regular season, while Georgia Tech is the Pool A team that won a series from Miami. Neither team can afford to lose the play-in game, so expect both teams to burn their aces in the opening game, which is a huge advantage for Miami, since they should have Chris Diaz going against the opponent’s second starter.

For Wake Forest, they have been rotating pitchers, but the 2nd starter last week was usual reliever Aaron Fossas. He went 3 innings, then made way for Matt Pirro, so the Demon Deacons might be using a combination of those two. If Wake Forest goes the more traditional route, then Connor Kaden or Jack Fischer will get the ball. All 3 starting options (Fossas, Kaden and Fischer) have ERAs hovering around 3.50. Fossas also serves as Wake Forest’s closer. At the plate, Wake Forest ranks in the bottom quarter of most major hitting categories. As a team they only bat .249, with Grant Shambley being the only player that bats over .300, while Will Craig is the most dangerous hitter, leading Wake Forest in RBI and HRs. The Demon Deacons lead the ACC in Home Runs.

If Miami faces Georgia Tech, they are likely to see Devin Stanton, who is 5-3, with a 2.13 ERA. He went 6 innings against the Canes earlier this year, and allowed 2 runs in a 3-2 Yellow Jackets win in extra innings. Sam Clay and Dusty Isaacs can both close for Georgia Tech. At the plate, Georgia Tech is middle of the road in terms of ACC rankings. They don’t hit nearly as many Home Runs as Wake Forest, but hit for a much higher average, and boast several players that hit over .300, including team leader Danny Spingola.

When Georgia Tech and Wake Forest played earlier this year, Wake Forest won 2 of 3. The Demon Deacons also are hot, beating UVA in 2 out of 3 games last week to hand the Cavaliers their first series loss of the season. Georgia Tech, of course, is 1 of only 3 teams (with the other 2 being sure national seeds FSU and UVA) to win a series against the Canes. Either opponent will present a major challenge.

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#5 Clemson

Thursday, 7 PM
NOTE: Games are televised regionally, so check your local listings. They are also available on ESPN3.

Miami’s second game will definitely be against Clemson. The Canes swept the Tigers in Clemson earlier this year, so they should have plenty of confidence. The first 2 games of that series were competitive, with Miami winning Game 2 in extra innings. In the 3rd game, Miami blew out the Tigers.

Teams approach tournaments differently, so we don’t know if Clemson will try to hold back their ace or go ahead and pitch him in the opener against Duke. I doubt Clemson will be throwing their 3rd pitcher here, though, so the Canes should see either Matthew Crownover (7-5, 2.25 ERA) or Daniel Gossett (7-1, 1.74 ERA). Clemson’s closer is Matt Campbell, who has a 0.60 ERA, so the Canes should definitely try and avoid him.

The Tigers are one of the ACC’s best at the plate, hitting for average and scoring runs, ranking 4th in average and 2nd in runs scored. They have a balanced lineup, lead by Tyler Krieger, who bats .340. One of the more challenging aspects of playing Clemson is that they are capable of getting power from anywhere in the lineup.

Clemson is one of many teams Miami swept this year, and the Canes starting pitching really took apart the Tigers lineup in those 3 games. Miami will need a repeat performance, because Clemson is capable of producing a strong performance on the mound, and has enough danger at the plate where a few good at bats could win the game.

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#4 Duke

Sunday, 11:00 AM
NOTE: Games are televised regionally, so check your local listings. They are also available on ESPN3.

Miami concludes pool play in the ACC tournament with another team they swept, Duke. Again, it’s hard to say who will pitch for Duke, but there are 3 options to start: Drew Van Orden (5-5, 3.56 ERA), Trent Swart (5-2, 1.49 ERA), and Michael Matuella (1-2, 2.61 ERA). Robert Huber is entrenched as the Blue Devils closer with 10 saves and a 3.12 ERA.

As a team, Duke is pretty much middle of the road in most statistical categories. They hit .262 and have 2 batters hitting over .300 in Jordan Betts and Matt Berezo. The one statistical category where they do excel is at hitting home runs, where they rank 4th in the ACC.

Duke is a solid team. While they don’t have the highlight series win, they did manage to win single games off of FSU and UVA. While Miami swept them, the Blue Devils are capable of winning a game in isolation.

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NOTE: IF MIAMI MAKES THE ACC TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, THAT GAME WILL BE ON SUNDAY AT 1 PM ON ESPN2.

Predictions

Adam’s Take

The ‘Canes really earned the ACC regular season championship with great play down the stretch, and now they will reap their reward of the easier group in pool play. The ACC is actually having a down season, with 3 very good teams sitting well above a slew of bubble teams. Avoiding UVA and FSU is obviously helpful, but they will also avoid either NCST or UNC, 2 teams who have lots of talent and are better than their record indicates.

For their first game, Miami probably does not have a preference for which team makes it through the play-in game, only that it is a close affair and both teams burn through their best relievers. We know GT took 2 of 3 from Miami earlier this season, but that was before this ‘Canes team really hit their stride. Well rested, and with their pitching matchup on their side no matter what, I like Miami to win their first game against either opponent.

If I am going to find a place in pool play to pick a ‘Canes loss, I think it’s here. We don’t know who will be pitching at this point, but it is likely either Suarez or Radziewski, neither of whom have the consistency of Diaz. Clemson is an explosive team, even if Miami was able to lock them down a few weeks ago. I still will pick a ‘Canes win here, but I’m not as convinced.

At this point, the Duke game might not even be relevant for progressing to the Championship, a situation the ‘Canes would really love, so they can hold back one of their elite weekend starters for that game. But Duke is also fighting for an NCAA tournament bid, so they will be looking to knock off Miami and boost their resume. Still, having swept this team only two weeks ago, it’s hard to pick against Miami here. I think they sweep pool play and make the title game.

If Miami makes the Championship Game, it’s likely that Miami would be matched up against UVA or FSU. It’s difficult to predict this situation because it’s totally dependent on who has pitchers left in the bullpen. And while Miami probably has the best starters of these 3 teams (especially when you include Salas in the mix), UVA and FSU have strength in depth in their bullpen. If I had to choose now, I would pick Miami to lose to either team, but still have done more than enough to secure a national seed.

Vishnu’s Take

Going through this preview, you begin to realize just how strong the ACC is. It will be significantly more difficult for Miami to win this then it will be to win the inevitable Coral Gables regional.

For the first game, regardless of opponent, Miami will need a strong performance on the mound. Both teams are capable of pulling the upset. I think it will be an advantage for Miami not to play the first day, particularly if the winner of GT-Wake has to burn a lot of their bullpen. I think the Canes win here.

Miami swept Clemson, but only the Sunday game was easy. Clemson will certainly want to get some payback for that, but looking at them overall, it’s hard to understand their record. They are a really strong team, that somehow does not have the record to show it. Miami is sort of the opposite. The statistics are middle of the road, but the record is outstanding. That should continue, and I think the Canes take Game 2.

Duke had their worst series of the year when they hosted Miami. At this point, we don’t know who would be pitching for them, but Miami’s best strength is 3 pitchers who can bring it any time in the rotation. They will certainly have the pitching advantage here, and I don’t see why they lose this.

At the very least, I think Miami wins 2 out of 3, and most tiebreakers will help them in that scenario. If they make the ACC Championship Game, this is where a strong midweek starter will help. Javi Salas is excellent for a 4th starter and capable of a great performance. Even if FSU or UVA comes out of Pool 2, Miami should have the advantage. The Canes win that game, and add an ACC Tournament win to their resume.

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2014 ACC Champions

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

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The Miami Hurricanes Baseball team clinched the 2014 ACC Coastal Championship as well as the unofficial ACC Championship by taking 2 of 3 games from North Carolina.

Thursday’s Game 1 was washed out, leading to what ended up being a marathon doubleheader on. In Game 1, Chris Diaz had one of his worst outings of the season, which meant he still went 6 innings allowing 3 earned runs, 4 in total. But the Canes plated 4 of their own, and the game headed to extra innings, where both teams could not break down. But the value of having a strong midweek starter paid off, as Javi Salas showed up big for the Canes, eating several innings and keeping Miami in the game. He finally cracked in the 16th inning, allowing a run which put UNC ahead 5-4. But like the entire season, Miami responded and loaded the bases, before Tyler Palmer knocked in a 2-run single to win the game 6-5.

Unsurprisingly, there was a massive hangover in Game 2, which ended up being no contest. Andrew Suarez was roughed up and chased early, UNC obliterated the Miami bullpen, and had a pitching gem of their own from Benton Moss, who went 7 innings allowing only 1 run. UNC won the second game 11-2.

Saturday’s rubber match was massive for both teams, but Miami got an outstanding pitching performance from a combination of Bryan Radziewski, Cooper Hammond, and Bryan Garcia to shut out the Tar Heels. The Canes managed to push across 2 runs and hang on for a massive win.

With Virginia surprisingly losing their series to Wake Forest, and FSU only winning 2 of 3 from Duke, Miami won the ACC by 2 games over UVA and 3 over FSU. Also of note was the return of David Thompson. With him and Johnny Ruiz back at the infield corners, the Canes are getting healthy at the right time.

Stay tuned to Sebastian’s Pub as we will have a full ACC Tournament preview later this week.

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This Week in Canes Baseball

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Adam Clarke (Follow on Twitter)

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Vishnu Parasuraman (Follow on Twitter)

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The Canes keep winning, and now hold a slim 1-game lead over Virginia for both the ACC Coastal and outright ACC regular season championship heading into the last weekend of the season.

The Canes begin the week with a solid win over FGCU, allowing them to “sweep” the season series with a 7-3 win.

In Friday’s series opener, Chris Diaz put up another performance to strengthen his case for ACC Pitcher of the Year, going 8 innings and allowing only 1 run on 2 hits. The Canes’ batters also quickly dispensed with pleasantries, and the 3 runs they plated in the 1st were enough for the win. But all weekend long, Miami continued to tack on runs, and this game was the trend setter, with the Canes plating another 3 runs for a total of 6, in a comfortable 6-1 win. Zach Collins continued to knock the cover off the ball, hammering a double and a home run to account for 3 RBIs.

Andrew Suarez got the ball on Saturday, and followed up Diaz’s strong performance with one of his own, going 7 innings and allowing only 1 earned run. At the plate, the Canes ripped open a 1-1 game, scoring 2 in the 7th and 6 in the 8th to coast to a 9-1 win. The highlight of the performance was Dale Carey’s grand slam in the 8th to all but end the game. Thomas Woodrey and AJ Salcines worked the 8th and 8th innings. 

Sunday’s finale was by far the most competitive game of the series, with Miami having to twice rally from deficits, first trailing 1-0 after 2 innings and 3-1 after 3 innings. But the Canes rallied back for 2 in the 6th to tie the game, before plating the winning run in the 8th. Bryan Radziewski had a solid outing, pitching out of trouble multiple times, giving the Canes 7 innings allowing 3 runs, with 2 being earned. At the plate, the top of Miami’s lineup delivered, with Carey, Palmer and Collins all delivering RBIs. The winning run was driven in by Brandon Lopez, with Bryan Garcia working into and out of trouble in both the 8th and 9th innings to get a 2 inning save, and hand the Canes a series sweep with a 4-3 victory.

In other ACC action, Florida State won 2 of 3 from UNC, but that loss allowed the Canes to pick up a game in the standings. Unfortunately, Virginia swept Georgia Tech this weekend, and holds the tiebreaker over Miami, leaving the Canes with no margin for error. The Canes host North Carolina, while Virginia travels to Wake Forest and Florida State hosts Duke. The Canes strong week did move them into the Top 10 of the RPI, and they are on the verge of securing a national seed. Winning the ACC outright would likely boost them right into the thick of the discussion.

There were also some interesting changes to the lineup. First, and most importantly, Johnny Ruiz returned from what was thought to be a season ending injury and resumed starting at 3B. His bat will be a huge a boost going forward. The other change made was to insert Jacob Heyward into the starting lineup in place of Ricky Eusebio. We’ll watch to see if that trend continues in subsequent weeks.

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North Carolina

Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 7:30 PM; Saturday, 12:00 PM
NOTE: All games have free audio available via WVUM. Games 1 and 2 will be on CSS and ESPN3. Game 3 will be on ESPNU.

Traditional powerhouse North Carolina is going through a down year, at 29-21 overall and 13-13 in the ACC. Although it will take a lot of bad luck, UNC could still possibly miss the ACC Tournament if they don’t win a game in Coral Gables this week. For some reason, UNC decided to play a road game at Gardner Webb on Tuesday, before heading south.

The Tar Heels’ pitching is decent, with a legitimate ace and a strong bullpen. The rotation this weekend should be Trent Thornton (7-3, 2.06 ERA), Benton Moss (3-2, 3.79 ERA), and Zac Gallen (5-3, 4.43 ERA). It will be exceedingly important for the Canes to avoid a late game situation where they need to get to the Tar Heels’ bullpen. North Carolina has 2 options to close games, Reilly Hovis, who is more of an inning eater, having gone 52 innings with a 1.73 ERA and 6 saves. The other option is Chris McCue, who has only appeared 7 times, but has 7 saves and a 0.77 ERA. Overall, UNC has 5 bullpen arms with an ERA under 3. They are 4th in the ACC in team ERA.

UNC is right in the middle of the pack in the ACC in terms of hitting, ranking between 5th and 8th in most major statistical hitting categories. In fact, their team stats on the mound and at the plate are similar to Miami’s. Their best hitter is Michael Russell, who hits .347 and co-leads the team with 4 home runs. The only other regular starter batting over .300 is Wood Myers.

Overall, this UNC team is tough to figure out. Their team stats should put them much higher in the standings than they are, but they have failed to capitalize and somehow find themselves in a precarious postseason situation. They have lost series to both UVA and FSU, but in both cases, did manage to win a game. The one time they were swept this year was at Duke, where they lost 3 games by a total of 4 runs, including losing one game in extra innings.

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Predictions

Adam’s Take

It’s hard to imagine this team would be in this situation going into the last weekend of the regular season where a sweep would win the ACC regular season title and really make a strong case for one of the national seeds. This is a team that lost to Maine in the first weekend of the year and continuously dropped midweek games to woeful opposition. But this ‘Canes team has been a blast to watch – despite their youth, they have the resilience to stay in the game when things start to fall apart. They don’t fold in pressure situations. And that’s why I think they can secure the sweep this week that they need to lock up the ACC.

UNC has a lot to play for, as a spot in the ACC would be unlikely without winning a game or two. But Miami’s pitching, both the starters and the bullpen, has been stellar. And now with the word that David Thompson might be rejoining the team this weekend, that boost, both statistically and emotionally, should push this team to get the 3 wins they want.

Vishnu’s Take

That sweep over Duke was one of the more impressive series wins for Miami this year, and now they are within touching distance of the ACC title. UNC is a very difficult team to sweep, and with Virginia playing Wake Forest, a sweep might be necessary.

I don’t care who the other team throws, I will always like Chris Diaz’ chances of coming out with a win. So, while UNC has a legitimate ace, I like the Canes to find a way to get that win.

And that is where I think superior starting pitching will lift Miami. With Suarez and Radziewski being superior to their counterparts, I think Miami takes 3 close games, sweeps, and wins the ACC Championship.