After another disastrous week, the Canes are more likely than not to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 44 years. But more on that later. First, to this weeks endless and futile search for offense.
On Wednesday, the Canes traveled to Fort Myers to take on FGCU, a Top 10 caliber, high quality team. And Greg Veliz was excellent, holding them down for 6 innings. But in the 7th, Veliz gave way to Andrew Cabezas, who struggled and allowed 3 runs. The Canes lost 3-0, and only had 2 hits.
The opener against Wake Forest was probably the most frustrating game of the year. The Canes outplayed the Demon Deacons, except for the scoring runs part. They outhit Wake Forest 7-2, but Wake Forest somehow managed a 2-run, 1 hit 2nd inning, and that held up as the Canes repeatedly moved runners into scoring position only to fail to bring them home. Jesse Lepore took the loss despite tossing a 1 hitter.
Saturday saw somewhat of a repeat, except the Canes managed enough hitting to support Jeb Bargfeldt. The Canes scored 2 runs early, and tacked on 3 more in the 7th, which held up as Bargfeldt shut out the Demon Deacons for 7 innings, and Maury, Cabezas, and Bartow allowed 1 run to help the Canes to a 5-1 win.
Having outplayed the Demon Deacons, one of the best hitting teams in the country, for 2 games, the Canes found themselves needing to do so for a 3rd consecutive game. And instead Wake Forest finally got it going at the plate, and unloaded on Miami. Wake Forest battered the Canes, winning 9-0, hammering 4 home runs, and coasting to an easy victory over a Miami team that looked like they didn’t even want to be there with pathetic plate appearances. The only bright spot in this game was Chris Barr returning to the lineup and doubling twice. Miami managed only one other hit (a single by Gali).
So what does this mean for the Canes ever desperate postseason chances? Here is a look at the last 5 years and the last teams in and out of the NCAA Tournament, with the 2017 Canes across the bottom (team names intentionally omitted):
The Canes are obviously deficient across the board, but the 2 most difficult areas to fix are the overall record and RPI, although the 2 are linked. One team that finished over .500 in the ACC in that period missed the NCAA Tournament, and that was with an RPI of 83 in 2014. The worst resume to make it was also in 2014, and 8 games over .500 with an RPI of 43. To be on the bubble, the Canes would need to get over .500 in ACC play, and would, in the process, need to improve their overall record, which means midweek games matter considerably. So what does something like that look like? Here is a guess as how the Canes can get on the bubble (they’d need to do better to get in):
This would put the Canes on the bubble. A good showing in the ACC Tournament would also help. It would put the Canes over .500 in ACC play, which is generally good enough, but, a poor overall record and a middling RPI (not sure exactly where it would be, but with these results, likely in the 30s or 40s) would still potentially keep them out. There are opportunities for the Canes to do even better than this (or worse) depending on how it plays out. The Canes must do the following:
- Win their midweek games outside of FGCU. FGCU is a different animal as a Top 10 caliber team. But the Canes need to win the rest of them. The grid above assumes they lose both remaining games with FGCU, so winning either will not only add a quality win, but also boost the overall record and RPI.
- Only lose the FSU and UVA series. The Canes have run out of chances to have close calls. FSU is clearly better than the Canes. UVA is so far similar, but they have played much better. The rest of their opponents are either worse or on even footing thus far in ACC play, which means the Canes must win those series.
- Avoid being swept. Any sweep will end the Canes’ chances because it will neuter their ability to get the ACC and overall record where it needs to be.
- Sweep Bethune Cookman and Boston College. It’s laughable to consider Miami sweeping anyone at this point, but these are the 2 worst teams left on the schedule, and the Canes have to be opportunistic.
To get the chart I left above, the Canes need to play 18-10 overall and 11-7 in the ACC. And that’s just to get on the bubble. This team has shown no ability to play at that level, so I personally don’t even think this is realistic. It’s more likely the Canes are fighting to get into the ACC Tournament (only 12 teams make it, up from 8 in previous years). But putting it all out there, you see the mountain the Canes have to climb and how much trouble they are in. It will take a minor miracle to make the NCAA Tournament at this point.
Wed: Apr 5, 6:00 PM
Note: This game will have WVUM radio coverage and ESPN3 TV Coverage.
St. Thomas is a normal opponent for the Canes and an NAIA school. Their stats don’t mean much because of the level of competition, but the Canes literally can’t hit anyone, so this is going to be a challenge anyway. As a disclaimer, all stats are against NAIA competition, so inflated.
The Canes will be the first major conference opponent for the Bobcats. Because NAIA schedules are completely different, it’s hard to determine who will start, but expect it to be Rene Arauz, who has a 2.25 ERA. If it becomes a save situation, Brandon Valentin has 4 saves and 1.80 ERA. As a team, they have an ERA of 3.21.
At the plate, the Bobcats also have gaudy numbers. They hit .325 as a team, and have one really standout power hitter, Michael Centeno, who has 15 home runs and bats .357. There a bunch of other hitters with big numbers, but again, this is against NAIA competition. Greg Veliz has been getting better as the season goes on for the Canes, so I expect him to continue to pitch well, meaning someone like Centeno could turn this result with a big hit.
Sat: Apr 8, 7:00 PM, Sun: Apr 9, 2:00 PM, Mon: Apr 10, 7:00 PM
Note: All games have WVUM radio coverage. Games 1 and 2 are on ESPN3, game 3 is on ESPNU.
NOTE THE SATURDAY-MONDAY SCHEDULE FOR TV PURPOSES.
Duke is 5-7 in the ACC and 16-15 overall. They’ve followed a similar ACC path to the Canes, winning their first series over Virginia Tech before dropping 3 series in a row to Wake Forest, Virginia, and Pittsburgh. Duke’s losses have also not been particularly competitive.
The expected pitching rotation is Mitch Stallings (3-2, 4.18 ERA), Adam Laskey (2-2. 7.29 ERA), and Ryan Day (2-2, 2.59). There are 3 pitchers to watch for out of the bullpen. James Ziemba is the Blue Devils’ best pitcher in terms of middle relievers they call on to eat innings. He has pitched over 30 innings with an ERA under 4. The lowest ERA on the team belongs to Bill Chillari with an ERA under 2. But he tends to appear for roughly an inning or so with 11 appearances and 14.1 IP. The closer is Jack Labosky with an ERA of 4.58 and 3 saves. Duke is 11th in the ACC in ERA.
At the plate, the Blue Devils’ best hitter is Griffin Conine, the son of former Marlins’ great Jeff Conine. The younger Conine leads the team with 7 home runs and also hits a robust .322 at the plate. 2 other hitters for the Blue Devils hit above .300 with 5 home runs…the aforementioned closer Jack Labosky and Jimmy Herron. Duke is 6th in the ACC in hitting.
This will be a matchup of better hitting (Duke) against better pitching (Miami). But the issue the Canes have had is their hitting so much worse than the rest of the ACC’s, that even in a matchup that might tilt their way, there is a distinct possibility they get shut out multiple times and lose the series.
This is probably the best chance Miami has to get its season on track. And frankly, the only goal for this team has to be to make the postseason and avoid the embarrassment of being the team that breaks the streak. It may be highly improbable, but the Canes have to find a way to go 4-0 this week. If they do, it’s almost assuredly going to come on the back of quality starting pitching (Bargfeldt, in particular, has been outstanding). This is akin to facing Duke in football – they may have improved significantly as a program, but come on… Duke? Miami baseball has no business with this series being in question. But this is where we are. I see the Canes doing enough to take the series 2-1, with all games being close and low-scoring. Miami ends the week 3-1, managing to maintain grasp of their tenuous chance of making the postseason.
On paper, this is a week for Miami to make up some ground. Duke is really struggling as well, and their pitching is really weak, meaning maybe even Miami can hit it. With that said, as bad as this year has been, Sunday was one of the first times the team flatly quit. It was embarrassing and disgusting. They weren’t even trying to get hits, just swinging at pitches early in the count to get out of there. I’m questioning whether the Canes even care if they don’t go to the NCAA Tournament, because it didn’t look like it this week. Anyway, they should beat St. Thomas, it would be surprising if they don’t, even if it’s an NAIA team. But they won’t win the weekend series, so I’ll say the Canes go 2-2.