The Hurricanes surpassed our low expectations with a 2-2 week that included a series win on the road against a top-10 team. Continued struggles in the midweek hurt what would have otherwise been a very successful week for Miami, who are still well outside of the NCAA tournament conversation.
The Canes were completely blanked on Wednesday night against UCF. Miami got a passable start from freshman Chris McMahon, who went 4 innings without allowing a run in his first career start. The bullpen leaked a few runs late, but the Canes offense showed no indication that they were going to score anyway. Miami only managed two hits on the night while striking out 14 times in a 4-0 loss.
0-2 seemed inevitable most of the night on Friday, as the Canes were behind most of the way and entered the 9th down 11-3. An incredible comeback in the 8th, capped by 2-RBI double from Hunter Tackett, forced extra innings at 11-11. Frankie Bartow went 4 full innings in relief, allowing only 2 baserunners. In the 12th, Frankie Zamora hit an RBI-single to center to give the Canes a 12-11 win.
A schedule change meant that Clemson and Miami would play a double-header on Saturday. The Canes got a stellar complete-game performance from Evan McKendry, who received some run support in the middle innings. Miami cruised to a 6-1 victory and clinched the series early in the day. Unfortunately, they could not replicate that success in the evening. While the Canes managed to jump out to a 2-run lead, the wheels fell off in the 5th inning. Clemson went: single, dropped fly ball, walk, double, single, HBP, Grand Slam to give up 7 runs without recording an out. Miami never really threatened the rest of the day, and their hopes of a sweep were dashed by an 8-3 defeat.
So where does that leave Miami, with one month remaining in the regular season? They are currently 15-20 (9-9 in ACC), but the schedule will start to ease up a bit. They are currently 66th in RPI. There are 19 games remaining, and to have a chance of making the tournament, Miami will likely need to win 15 of them. That would put Miami at 30-24 before the ACC tournament, which could allow them to reasonably play themselves into the NCAAs. The Canes have remaining series with Pitt, FSU, Bethune-Cookman, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. The 4 ACC foes all currently have losing records in conference play.
Florida Guld Coast
Wed: Apr 18, 6:00 PM
Note: All games have WVUM radio coverage. TV coverage is on ESPN3.
There is a very narrow path for the Canes to turn this season around, but it also includes no margin for error in midweek play. Miami is 1-7 in such games this year, and they have another tough one this week. FGCU beat Miami 1-0 in Ft. Myers just three weeks ago. Overall FGCU is 25-9, but are coming off a series loss to Jacksonville.
In that game three weeks ago, Miami wasted an excellent outing by Daniel Federman. He might not get a chance to replicate that performance, as he seems poised to have a bullpen role the rest of the year. Miami went with Chris McMahon on Wednesday night, a curious choice given the importance of midweek games the rest of the way. He didn’t let Miami down, but Federman has the best ERA among starters this year and has not been the reason for the Canes’ struggles on Wednesdays.
Evan Lumbert will likely get the start again for the Owls. He picked up the win against Miami in March and has a 3.38 ERA on the season. He’ll be supported at the plate by a strong FGCU offense that features six hitters with batting averages above .300, led by Richie Garcia (.367). Altogether, the Owls have hit for 28 HRs this year.
Fri: Apr 20, 7:00 PM, Sat: Apr 21, 7:00 PM, Sun: Apr 22, 1:00 PM
Note: All games have WVUM radio coverage. TV coverage is on ESPN3.
Before we start to compare Miami and Pitt, let the record show that Pitt have had the same manager, Joe Jordano, for 18 consecutive years. In those 18 season, Pitt has never made the NCAA tournament (and yet, the Joe Jordano Wikipedia page sadly states: “One of the most successful eras of Pitt baseball began with the hiring of Joe Jordano as coach on November 15, 1997.”). So take that into account everytime we mention that Pitt and Miami are, statistically, awfully similar this year.
Pitt baseball is 19-14 this year and have won three consecutive ACC series over Virginia, Boston College, and Georgia Tech. This has boosted their conference record to 8-10, 5th in the ACC Coastal and just one game behind the Canes. They are one of the few ACC teams with a team batting average lower (.242) than the Canes (.251), though they strikeout far less frequently and therefore tend to get on base at a much better rate. There aren’t many hitters in the lineup that should incite much fear in the Canes pitching staff. Liam Sabino (.291/.583/.397) leads the team with 9 home runs, almost half of the team’s total (20). He’s also quite effective on the bases, successfully stealing on 14/16 attempts this year. Like Miami though, there’s only a few bright spots offensively. The Pitt lineup will feature a few players who aren’t even hitting .200.
The Pitt starting rotation is a bit unsettled. Last week’s Friday starter, Dan Hammer, has the worst ERA on the team (9.67). The right-hander had been used primarily out of the bullpen in the weeks prior to the GT series, but he may be in line to get another start this week. Matt Pidich (4-1, 3.11 ERA) and Blair Calvo (1-2, 4.50 ERA) have been mainstays, and will likely get the starts on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Overall, Pitt has a team ERA of 4.53. RJ Freure and Yaya Chentouf get a lot of innings out of the bullpen, and Chentouf is the team’s primary closer.
The Canes showed a lot of resiliency on Friday night in a game that looked all but over. That, plus the strong performance in the first half of the double-header, is reason for optimism. Now that the schedule seems to lighten up a bit, one can envision a very specific path to postseason play, but it has to start with a win on Wednesday night. For the second year, poor play in midweek games have tanked the Canes RPI and W/L record. That cannot happen the rest of the season if Miami wishes to keep it’s tournament hopes alive. I’m not wholly on board with the change to Chris McMahon in the midweek, simply because Federman has been great in that role. McMahon has the talent though, and I actually think the Canes can get it done at home this week. Really, they need to be sweeping a team like Pitt at this point, but I don’t see enough consistency in the Canes to pull that off. I would expect a series win, at least. That means I’m predicting a 3-1 week to steady the ship a bit, and claw back slightly towards a .500 record.
4-0 is a must this week because there won’t be many opportunities like this. One of my issues, other than the abysmal midweek play, is this team does not seem to comprehend the size of the hole they’re in. Every game is a must win, and yet it seemed like they relaxed last week for Game 3 against Clemson when there is no margin for error. On paper, they can go 4-0 this week, but that takes too much focus for this team. I expect the Canes to once again blow the midweek game, and not take care of business on the weekend. They won’t drop a weekend series to Pitt, but they will lose a game there as well. The Canes go 2-2 and continue to slide toward irrelevance.