Miami enters this week’s ACC Tournament riding high on a 10-game win streak which has seen them claw back to above .500. While they were listed on next 4 out projections in some publications heading into last week (meaning they would have to leap frog 8 teams to get into the NCAA tournament), a couple of rain outs last week denied the Canes an opportunity to notch a high RPI win over Stetson and to add another ACC win. All told, they finished 7th in the ACC and 2 games above .500 overall. This year’s record of 16-13 in ACC play matches last year’s record, but the overall record is 27-25, compared to 30-26 heading into the ACC Tournament. Last year, the Canes went 2-1 in Durham, losing in the semifinals to finish at 32-27. This made them the last team left out of the tournament. So in theory, you could see a 3-1 week (make the finals and lose there) getting the Canes to almost identical resume of 30-26 overall. But last year, the RPI was 43, this year, it is 63. While this win streak has been impressive and a joy to watch, it has been against the 2 teams that failed to qualify for the ACC Tournament and Bethune-Cookman. And that is why the RPI is so low. Last year, the Canes had more quality wins. This year, the series against Clemson and a sweep of Virginia are the only things that stand out. It would be a gift to Jim Morris to stick this Canes team in the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 week. Where does that leave the Canes? Right about here…
The ACC Tournament features 4 Pools of 3 teams each. Each team is guaranteed 2 games, with the winners of each pool advancing to the semifinals, and then the winners of the semifinals advancing to the Championship Game. The issue at hand is whether Miami can extend this win streak to 14 game, now against much stiffer competition. Let’s unpack the bracket:
Miami is in Pool B with Clemson and Notre Dame. The Canes won 2 of 3 from both Notre Dame and Clemson this year, so it is possible for them to win this pool and advance to the semfinals. If they get there, they will see NC State, FSU, or Virginia. The Canes did not play NC State this year, lost 2 of 3 to FSU, and swept UVA. If they are somehow still alive after the semifinals, they could play 1 of 6 teams (records against teams in parenthesis): UNC (1-2), Georgia Tech (0-3), Pitt (1-2), Duke (1-2), Louisville (0-0), or Wake Forest (0-0).
There are some advantages to where the Canes are seeded, for viewing, for spacing of games, and for weather. Miami opens on Tuesday night at 7PM against Notre Dame. Then, Clemson plays Notre Dame on Wednesday afternoon (3 PM), and the Canes conclude with Clemson at 7PM on Thursday night. With both games at night, if you have one of those job-type things, you can still watch the games at night.
But it gets better for the Canes. They don’t have games on consecutive days (which should allow for bullpen recovery) unless they make the Championship game. Miami would win the tournament by playing Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Miami has to win both games to get out of the pool, but Clemson having to play 2 games in a row (Wednesday and Thursday) gives the Canes an advantage heading into that Thursday night game. The other advantage…the weather:
There is a slight chance of rain on Tuesday night, but it shouldn’t be a washout or anything like that. On Wednesday, the forecast couldn’t be better for the Canes. There are thunderstorms forecast for Wednesday afternoon so in a best case scenario, Clemson has a long day at the ballpark and comes into Thursday’s clash worn out. Thursday, the weather looks good at night.
The rotation also sets up nicely. Andrew Cabezas should go on Tuesday, saving Jeb Bargfeldt for Thursday, on full rest. If the Canes get to Saturday, Even McKendry will be on full rest. And if it gets to Sunday, the Canes will actually have the option of pitching Cabezas again on 5 days rest, starting Daniel Federman, Chris McMahon, or maybe even going with a whole staff approach. The games spaced out perfectly for Miami.
With that said, Miami must take care of Notre Dame first or Thursday’s game won’t matter. We’ll preview Notre Dame and Clemson here, since those are the guaranteed games for the Canes.
Note: TV Coverage is a bit spotty, unfortunately. Here are the list of affiliates but the Canes opener against ND will be a delayed broadcast in Miami, as will a potential Semifinal game on Saturday at 5PM. With that said, WatchESPN (subject to blackout) and the FoxSportsGo app should broadcast the game whether it is on TV or not. As always, WVUM will have a radio call.
Tue: May 22, 7:00 PM
Miami took 2 of 3 from Notre Dame in a home series back in March, and the Fighting Irish ended the season 24-28, 12-18 in ACC play. That Miami was able to shut out the Irish twice in their regular season matchups is all the more impressive in hindsight. The Notre Dame lineup has been one of the most productive in the ACC. They have two regulars hitting above .300, but five hitting .290 or better, and 8 above .250. The long ball power is spread throughout the lineup as well—seven players have at least three home runs this season (Eric Gilgenbach leads the team with 10). The potent lineup will likely go up against Andrew Cabezas, who skipped his start in the season finale that was ultimately rained out. Cabezas took the loss from Notre Dame in the regular season after giving up the lead from the bullpen.
Despite their above-average offense, it appears that pitching really dragged the Irish down to the bottom half of the ACC standings. Their team ERA of 5.55 was second-worst in the conference, behind only Virginia Tech. The Irish did not change their rotation at all down the stretch, so presumably they will send out their best starting pitcher, Scott Tully, who last started on Thursday night. Tully is a 5th year senior lefty who has a 4.40 ERA in 13 starts, and went the whole season as their “ace” pitcher to open each series. The names Canes fans are most likely to see come out of the bullpen are Tommy Vail (whose 2.63 ERA leads the team), Andrew Belcik, and closer Cole Kmet (8 saves).
Thu: May 24, 7:00 PM
If the Canes lose to Notre Dame, this game will be notable as the last game of Jim Morris’ career, but as a dead rubber in terms of stakes. But if the Canes win against ND, this Clemson game becomes the most important game of the season (which the ND game is right now, and which the SF and Final become if the Canes reach those rounds). The Clemson series was probably the most surprising of the Canes’ season, not just because the Canes won a road series against one of the better teams in the ACC, but because of the miracle comeback in Friday’s opener where the Canes erased an 8-run deficit in the 9th, then won the game in the 12th. Despite that series, however, Clemson is clearly the better team.
But there is good news…Canes ace Jeb Bargfeldt should get the ball. The Canes will also have an additional days’ rest. But Clemson has revamped their rotation a bit since the Canes met them earlier this year, and it will be interesting to see who Clemson throws in this game. The big question is whether Jacob Hennessy, their Friday starter for most of the year, was rested last weekend to be fresh for the ACC Tournament, or whether Spencer Strider supplanted him. My guess is Hennessy will go against Notre Dame on full rest regardless, and that leaves the Canes to likely face Brooks Crawford, who the Canes chased after 3 innings earlier this year. The options overall are Hennessy (3.65 ERA), Crawford (3.45 ERA), Jake Higginbotham (3.18 ERA and shut down Miami earlier this year, but would be on shorter rest), or Spencer Strider (3.66 ERA). Overall, in terms of performance, you won’t see much difference. Expect a starter to go 5-6 innings, allow a couple of runs, and hand the ball to an outstanding bullpen. Clemson has 4 pitchers with an ERA under 3 coming out of the bullpen with significant appearances. The highlight is closer Ryley Gilliam who boast an ERA of 1.79 and is tied for the ACC lead in saves with 11. But before it gets to him, expect to see Ryan Miller, Mat Clark, and Carson Spiers eat innings. Overall Clemson is second in the ACC in ERA.
While Bargfeldt struggled against Clemson in the earlier outing, this time he is going to have to win the game for Miami, because if there is an area where Clemson struggles, it is at the plate. Clemson is only 2 points above the Canes in team batting average (although they have scored 100 more runs because of the Canes’ strike out problems). It feels like a broken record at this point (since it’s been going on for 3 years), but Seth Beer is one of the finest players in college baseball and leads the Clemson lineup in batting average, HRs, slugging percentage, walks, and is also an excellent fielder. This guy should be a professional (and will be soon). Beyond him, Clemson has a few hitters to look out for. Kyle Wilkie and Logan Davidson hit over .300, and Chris Williamson leads the team in RBI. There is a steep drop-off from there, so it is important for Bargfeldt to pitch around the dangerous hitters. This is the Clemson team weakness that must be exploited.
Overall, Miami should have the entire bullpen at their disposal, and their ace on the mound. Shove all the chips in and hope for the best.
Despite the good play over the last few weeks, I don’t have much confidence in the Canes stretching out this winning streak to 14 and giving Coach Morris another few games on the job. The competition down the stretch was mostly poor, and the rainouts against Stetson and Boston College prevented Miami from racking up enough wins to have even the slightest chance of making the NCAAs as an at-large. The optimistic perspective is that Miami does have the arms to do it, and should they get out of their pool, their chances aren’t bad with Evan McKendry and Chris McMahon likely still fresh. I like their chances of getting by Notre Dame on Tuesday evening, but I think this Miami team slips up against Clemson. I know they took 2 of 3 from the Tigers in April, but I’m not sure the Canes will be able to keep the lid on a Clemson lineup full of power hitters. Miami shot themselves in the foot this season, perhaps even worse than they did last year. Too many bad showings in midweek performances doomed a team that should have at least been the dangerous 3 seed in someone else’s regional. The Jim Morris era ends with Miami going 1-1 in their pool.
This is set up for a deep run, but there is no margin for error. The rain all but erased the plausible at-large scenarios for Miami (could not afford to go 2-0 when they needed to go 4-0). With that said, I don’t see 4 wins this week. I think Miami will handle Notre Dame. They are the better team, and while Notre Dame has good power, the park for the ACC Tournament plays large. I think that helps, and I like Cabezas in this spot because if he has control, it’s hard to make solid contact. Which brings us to Thursday. Clemson, flatly, is the better team and should win. We need Bargfeldt to pitch the outing of his lifetime. If he does, then the Canes can win this. But that’s still only half the job, and with matchups potentially against NC State and UNC on the horizon, there is just no way I think the Canes win all 4. And Clemson, frankly, appears more winnable because of a miracle comeback. The Tigers are 22-8 in ACC play, won the ACC Atlantic, and are a borderline national seed. So yes, that is a tall order. Miami plays well, but still goes 1-1, ending Jim Morris’ career.