Generally, winning a road ACC series strengthens a resume. In this instance, it moved the Canes further away from the bubble. In the increasingly likely event that the Canes don’t make the NCAA Tournament, this week will be the one that cemented their eventual demise. A series of managerial blunders greatly contributed, which is becoming the norm.
On Tuesday, the Canes made the long, arduous journey to FIU, and won an error-riddled, frankly awful game that saw both score numerous unearned runs and the Canes win the battle to be slightly less futile, 8-7. Wednesday’s return match in Coral Gables was a much cleaner affair. The Canes controlled much of the game, but FIU just hung within touching distance and Frankie Bartow came on to close out a game which the Canes lead 4-3. All year, in these situations, Jim Morris has made the move to Brandon Gali at shortstop for superior defense. In this case, he inexplicably left Randy Batista in the game. Batista has been surprisingly strong in the field, but Gali is superior. And with runners and 1st and 2nd, and 1 out, it was Batista that threw the game-ending double play ball wide of first allowing the tying run to come home. FIU would add another and win 5-4. The loss meant that FIU took the season series 3-1.
Miami on the weekend traveled to Boston College, the last place team in the ACC Atlantic. If ever there was a chance to make up ground on the road, this was it. And on Friday, Jeb Bargfeldt delivered, shutting out the Eagles. Hunter Tackett was also inserted into the lineup and delivered with 2 hits and 2 RBI, including a HR. Miami won easily 3-0. On Saturday, Michael Mediavilla really struggled, and Miami was fortunate to only find themselves down 4-1. But the bullpen held strong, and the Canes entered the 8th inning trailing 5-3. They plated 2 runs in the 8th then exploded in the 9th, bringing home 9 runs and winning 14-5. Everyone contributed, but Tackett was again the star, going 4-4 with a double, a HR, and 3 RBI. Sunday saw the Canes going for a critical road sweep, and the game followed a similar pattern to the 2nd game. Gregory Veliz allowed a 3-run HR in the 1st, then settled down nicely and gave the Canes 6 solid innings. Miami trailed 4-2 headed to the bottom of the 7th when, inexplicably, Morris went to midweek starter Jesse Lepore, who has struggled against ACC competition all year. The inning quickly got away from Lepore, who allowed 3 runs and only recorded 1-out. That all but ended the game. BC tacked on 2 more in the 8th and won 9-2
All told, the Canes had a 3-2 week which saw the Canes go over .500 in conference, remain a game below .500 in D-1 overall games, and saw their RPI rise into the 60s. While that doesn’t look too bad on paper, the Canes needed to be more opportunistic. The RPI rates road wins heavily, and the Canes only have one road series left, against a strong UVA team. They won’t get a better shot to pad that RPI than against a team like BC. The midweek losses have also severely crippled the Canes’ resume, and the FIU loss is the difference between being over or under .500 right now. At this stage the Canes are firmly out, and a chance to really boost the resume was lost.
There are a couple of recent ACC comparisons to keep in mind. Last year, UNC missed out despite having an RPI of 19 with a 34-21 overall record. Their problem? They went 13-17 in conference. The Canes will have to do much better than that conference record to even be eligible for the NCAA tournament with a record over .500. A less recent but probably better comp is Duke in 2014. The Blue Devils finished 33-25 overall and 16-14 in the ACC. That normally seems like a lock, but their RPI killed them, as it languished at 83.
If Miami wants get back to the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to essentially create a better version of Duke’s 2014 resume. That means winning all of the remaining out of conference games. That’s 3 this week against BCC, next midweek against UCF, and the following midweek against FGCU. They would then need to win 2 of 3 in Charlottesville, and sweep Virgnia Tech at home. This would put them overall 7 games over .500 (one game worse than Duke in 2014), but they would be 5 games over .500 in the ACC and the RPI would move into the acceptable range. Then, they would need to not fall flat on their faces in the ACC Tournament, although 2-1 would be preferred, 1-2 might do it depending on their pool. Yes, if you kept up with all that, that means a 10-1 finish for an under .500 team. Improbable is putting it mildly.
This changed dynamic due to the poor last week is reflected in our updated chart:
This week, any loss will end at-large chances because of the penalties with poor home losses in the RPI. It would also relegate the Canes to an unacceptable overall record. Normally, a BCC sweep would be a given, but the Canes have no sweeps on the year, and a program famous for stringing together win streaks desperately needs one now.
Fri: May 5, 7:00 PM, Sat: May 6, 7:00 PM, Sun: May 7, 1:00 PM
Note: All games have WVUM radio coverage. TV coverage is on ESPN3.
Bethune-Cookman is one of the better teams in the Mid-Eastern Conference, and a game out of first place. In terms of common opponents, they split games with FIU, lost to FAU, and swept Boston College. Their RPI is 76, so it’s not much worse than Miami’s. They have 5 hitters batting over .300 and hit .280 as a team. There isn’t much power on the roster, with only 19 HRs as a team. For comparison, Miami has somehow managed 24 HRs. If there is a player to watch out for, it’s Danny Rodriguez with his team leading 6 HRs and a batting average over .300.
BCC has a legitimate ace in Anthony Maldonado, who will start Friday. He is 6-3 with a 2.86 ERA. On Saturday, Tyler Norris will pitch. He picked up his first loss of the season last weekend and has a solid ERA under 4. On Sunday, Tyler Krull will finish off the series. He likewise has a strong ERA at 3.11 and a 5-1 record. If it gets to a save situation, Ivan Coutinho has 7 saves and a 3.42 ERA.
Miami obviously out-talents BCC, but BCC has played better this year and is equivalent against common opponents. It’s a must sweep for the Canes, but it certainly won’t be easy, and if they take it for granted, they will lose at least a game, if not the series.
I thought Miami’s post-season chances would be done a few weeks ago against FSU. I was wrong, but the Canes haven’t done anything since then to improve their chances either. I don’t expect much to be different between this weekend and the Boston College series. There will be times when Miami looks great, but those will be offset by long stretches of ineptitude and short bursts of disastrous decision-making, both by the team and its manager. I’m fairly confident Miami can win this series, but I also cannot see a scenario in which Miami strings together 3 consecutive games to earn the necessary sweep. The Canes get a 2-1 weekend that might boost the RPI a little, but we all know it will not be enough in the long run.
I’ve repeatedly predicted turnarounds, and nothing happens. We know some of these players are better than they’ve shown, and I expected that to show up at some point. Last week was just a continuation of the mismanagement or mistakes that have plagued the Canes all year. There is no corner to turn because this team is just bad. Can’t hit, uneven pitching, can’t field. BCC is not that bad, which means the Canes won’t sweep them. Miami is probably good enough to win 2 of 3, but that’s it.