Over the course of a baseball season most teams will experience a streak of games where everything clicks. Hitting, pitching, and fielding all mesh into a seamless whole and a winning can streak ensue. Conversely, over the course of a season, most teams will face a slump. Nothing works and that slump can lead to a losing streak.
Maryland entered its series with Boston College having dropped two of their previous three games including an emotional extra-innings loss at home to Georgia Tech. Boston College came into the series having won two of their previous three games with the two wins coming on the road at ACC opponent NC State. When a team in stasis meets a team on the ascent, as happened to the Maryland Terrapins on their trip to Boston College this past weekend, the likely result is the beatdown the Eagles handed the Terps.
Depending on the timing, however, the slump itself is not necessarily critical to a team's success or failure. The critical factor is the team's reaction to the downturn. Good teams will find a way to get back on a winning course quickly. Teams not bound for postseason play will wander - winning games here and there but mostly mired in a swamp of losses. The Terps are at this juncture. Choose the correct path and postseason play is within reach. Turn the wrong way and the season sinks in quicksand.
What went wrong - Pitching
In anticipation of poor weather, Saturday's game was rescheduled as part of a Friday doubleheader. Normally, one would think this would presage a split because doubleheader sweeps are atypical. But for a slumping squad, nothing is normal.
As noted in the preview, Maryland entered this series with more to lose than to gain and it may be that, combined with their recent losses, they succumbed to the pressure. If the Terps were, indeed pressing, then falling behind 4-0 in the first inning of the first game was probably the worst thing that could have happened to them.
Perhaps Maryland ace, Jake Stinnett, was trying to be too fine with his pitches or perhaps he lost focus after plunking the leadoff hitter with his fifth pitch of the game. Whatever the case, he served up two extra base hits - including a three run home run - to the next three batters. After the rough first, though, Stinnett settled down and tossed five scoreless innings to keep the Terps in the game. Unfortunately, that proved too late for a slumping and possibly overanxious offense.
Freshman Mike Shawaryn took the hill for the Terps in the nightcap. Shawaryn had been an effective Saturday stopper backing up games in which Stinnett might have taken a tough Friday loss. Again, perhaps the freshman felt not only the pressure of backing up Stinnett after a loss but the added pressure of the series itself. Perhaps pitching on Friday disrupted his rhythm just enough to inhibit his effectiveness but like Stinnett, he left the Terps facing a climb from a 4-0 hole after one inning. And again, Maryland remained mired in that hole.
The one starter who settled in early was Jake Drossner on Sunday. Though he yielded two runs in six and two-thirds innings, only one was earned and keeping the game that close should have been more than enough for Maryland's offense. For the third straight game, it wasn't. And that leads us to:
What went wrong - Hitting
Pitching with a lead - particularly a four run lead - nearly always makes a pitcher more effective. He doesn't need to be quite as precise and hitters sometimes get anxious. This looked to be the case against BC. The Eagles' Friday starter John Gorman, who had been inconsistent at best earlier in the season, pitched 5.2 strong innings giving up only one run and lowering his ERA to below four.
In the second game, a problem the Terps have faced too often over that past few seasons reared its unattractive head, stranding runners on base. The Terrapins left at least one man on in every inning and stranded multiple runners in the second, fourth, sixth, and ninth. Trailing by three runs in that ninth inning, the Terps had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score. In total, Maryland left 14 runners on base in that second game.
Sunday's final game looked a bit more like the first game on Friday. After seeing Charlie White reach second with none out but not scoring in the top of the first, the Terps never really threatened starter Jeff Burke until the ninth. At that point, they trailed by five.
What went wrong - Fielding
The Terrapins have been one of the better fielding teams in the ACC this season. But Murphy found their gloves as well. Maryland made four errors in the final two games of the series. Though not all the runs that scored were unearned, each of the Terrapins' errors, including three on Sunday, contributed to a Boston College score. When things are going wrong, mistakes are magnified.
Where to go from here - ACC
After this past weekend's games, the Terps are currently clinging to the tenth and final spot to qualify for the ACC Tournament. They sit a half game ahead of NC State, a game and a half ahead of Boston College and are one game behind Pitt for the ninth spot. Maryland is certainly in position to make a move up the ACC ladder and possibly qualify for an NCAA Tournament bid. But they will have to get themselves back on track and do so quickly.
Looking first at the ACC, the Terps have six conference games remaining on their schedule. They will host last place Notre Dame this weekend and close their ACC season with a three game series at Pitt. Sweeping both of those series would assure a spot in the ACC Tournament and could possibly vault the Terps as high as seventh. This would still leave them needing to win a first round game to get into the main draw of the Tournament but would give them a winning record in the league. Granted, back to back sweeps are unlikely but simply winning both series should also secure a spot in the opening round. Whether this will earn Maryland a spot in the NCAA Tournament probably depends on where Maryland finishes in that seven to ten range in the ACC regular season. Finishing ninth or tenth Will Likely demand at least an opening round win. A seventh or eighth place finish might not.
Where to go from here - NCAA
Regarding Maryland's prospects for the reaching the NCAA Tournament, in the same way that much will depend on how the Terps finish their ACC slate, they will also need to play well in their remaining non-conference games. Maryland currently sits thirty-sixth in the RPI and there is enough strength left on their schedule to keep that reasonably high.
The Terps have home games this week against James Madison (175) and Saint Joseph's (69) before Notre Dame (201) comes to College Park for a three game weekend series. The following week, Maryland plays on the road at Virginia Commonwealth (53) and Towson (124) at Cal Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. They will then travel to Pitt (112) for what could be a crucial final ACC series before hosting West Virginia (27) in the last regular season game.
Maryland beat James Madison in Harrisonburg earlier this season and sweeping the season series by winning at home could get them in a better frame of mind to face a quality Saint Joseph's team on Wednesday. A win over the Hawks will provide some solidity to their postseason resume. If Maryland can then take care of the Fighting Irish with a home sweep, the five game winning streak would relieve a significant amount of the pressure on the remaining six games and the Terps could find themselves in a position to play their way into both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
Of course, a series win or sweep at Boston College would have had that pressure releasing effect on all eleven of the games that followed. So, on the other hand...