Miami’s week got off to a good start, with 2 consecutive midweek victories over visiting Maine. But poor hitting and missed opportunities caused them to drop 2 of 3 important conference games at North Carolina State, finishing the week 3-2.
The Canes got quality starts from a pair of freshmen pitchers in the midweek, with Evan McKendry and Greg Veliz earning victories after the Miami bats afforded them early leads.
Against the Wolfpack, the Miami bats went cold again, with Miami mustering only 2 hits going into the 8th inning. Facing a 3-1 deficit, the Canes tied it up with back-to-back solo home runs by Johnny Ruiz and Romy Gonzalez. But NC State retook the lead in the bottom half of the inning, and in the 9th, Miami grounded into a double play with the tying run at the plate.
Weather delays heavily affected game 2, with a 90-minute lightning delay forcing Miami to go to the bullpen early. Despite taking a 1-0 lead in the 5th, Miami’s struggles at the plate continued, only managing one additional run while NC State brought across five. Miami actually outhit the Wolfpack 6-5, but NC State was far more efficient with their hits in the 5-2 loss.
The Canes did manage to salvage a win on Sunday, jumping out to an early 7-2 lead after 3 innings. Miami got 4 good innings out of Andrew Cabezas and Frankie Bartow in relief, holding on for a 7-5 win. The 3-2 week leaves Miami at 9-11 overall, and 3-3 in conference play. Up next is a home game against a local foe, followed by another road trip to North Carolina – this time to face the Tar Heels.
Wed: Mar 22, 6:00 PM
Note: This game is on ESPN3 with WVUM radio coverage.
Miami won the first matchup this year, with a 5-2 victory back on March 1st. Greg Veliz got that start, but Evan McKendry picked up the win in that matchup after Miami took a lead in the 7th inning. Veliz might get the start again, since the Canes have preferred McKendry in his bullpen role, but he has performed well in most circumstances so far this season.
FAU is fresh off a sweep of Middle Tennessee State in its first conference series, and has won 10 of 12 since the loss to Miami to start March. A power hitting team, the Owls have 31 home runs already this year, and 4 players have 5 each. Overall, this FAU lineup is batting .320, and have scored double-digit runs in half of their games this season.
The Owls seem likely to send Senior lefty Sean Labsan to the mound, as he was used in that role the last two weeks. His 5.06 ERA isn’t impressive, but he is coming off a solid outing last week.
Fri: Mar 24, 6:30 PM, Sat: Mar 25, 4:00 PM, Sun: Mar 26, 12:00 PM
Note: All games will be on ESPN3 with radio coverage on WVUM. There is limited regional TV coverage available for Game 3.
UNC enters the week at 15-5 (4-2 ACC) and sits at 10th in the d1baseball.com Top 25 rankings. They opened ACC play by taking 2 of 3 at home against what was then a top-10 UVA team, and followed that up with another series win over Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels boast the 2nd best team ERA in the ACC, and are led by Friday starter J.B. Bukauskas (3-0, 1.09 ERA, 51 Ks-7 BBs). Luca Daltri (2.41 ERA) and Jason Morgan (3.68) pitch on Saturdays and Sundays, respectively, and both are imposing 6’6 right handers who can throw with gas. Combine that with multiple players coming out of the pen with sub-2 ERAs, culminating with closer Josh Hiatt, and runs are at a premium when facing UNC. Naturally, this doesn’t bode well for a Miami team that has yet to find any consistency at the plate.
Offensively, Logan Warmoth is leading the team in a most categories. He can hit for average (.364), power (4 home runs, .623 slugging), and even leads the team in steals (11/11). In total, the Tar Heels have 5 players hitting above .300, and are active on the bases when they get there, succeeding on 30 of 40 steal attempts. They do have some weak links in their lineup, bringing their team batting average down to the middle of the ACC overall. But with excellent pitching, both to start and out of the pen, UNC doesn’t need to do too much at the plate to earn wins.
Miami cannot afford to drop a series against a team like NC State, because then there’s weeks like this where 0-4 is well within the realm of possibility. FAU is always a tough midweek opponent, but definitely represents the best chance for Miami to pick up a win this week. If the Canes manage to score more than 10 runs across all three weekend games, I’d be surprised. Maybe Miami steals the Sunday game, but I have a hard time seeing them doing even that to be honest. Canes finish the week with just one win and continue their misery at the plate.
Even at the depths of their struggles, the Canes managed to beat FAU, so I expect a midweek win. But I have grave concerns about the weekend. UNC is a nationally championship contender, and on the road, I doubt the Canes stand much of a chance. In addition to uneven and sometimes non-existent hitting, the Canes are sprinkling in crippling errors and also managing to completely mismanage the bullpen. I’m not sure if it is JD Arteaga or Jim Morris who is ultimately responsible, but at some point, the Canes need to give quick hooks to struggling pitchers and understand that with runs at a premium, they cannot afford to allow struggling relievers to work out of jams. The Canes have lost 3 ACC games and the bullpen has played a major role in each of those losses. The pitching has definitely been inconsistent, which hurts as well, but there is just not enough here to go into Chapel Hill and win a series. Hopefully, the Canes don’t get swept. Miami goes 2-2, losing the weekend series to UNC.