Maryland baseball: Terps travel to Wake Forest for a three-game set

Wake Forest stands directly above Maryland in the ACC standings. The Terps can partially remedy that by taking the series against the upstart Demon Deacons.

The Maryland Terrapins (18-8, 5-6 ACC) visit the Wake Forest Demon Deacons ( 20 - 11, 8 - 4 ACC) for a critical three game set. Wake Forest (WF) is not a top-tier team in the ACC, in fact they've gone a number of years without rising above .500 in conference play and last year were 9 - 20. Easy pickings for the Terrapins? Not so fast. Although WF has had trouble in the ACC, they seem to have Maryland's number. Going back three years the Terps are (gulp) 1 - 8 against the Demon Deacons. The last time Maryland traveled to Gene Hooks Field they were swept. Could this be the year the Terps end the Demon Deacons' curse?

What's up with Wake?

Wake Forest has got off to a fast start in the ACC this year. While five of their eight wins have been over lowly Boston College and Notre Dame, they have taken a game from Clemson and two from Georgia Tech. The difference makers for WF this season have been improved pitching and the play of freshman 3B/P Will Craig. Last season WF's pitchers had an ERA of 4.55 and were allowing opposing hitters to bat .274. This year WF's team ERA is 3.36 and their opponents' batting average is .242. They've seen improvement across the board from their pitchers. How much of that is due to playing lesser competition (SOS of 112) is still TBD.

Craig has been playing at a high level for a freshman. Drafted out of high school in the 37th round by the Kansas City Royals, Craig leads WF with a .333 BA and six home runs. He's a big kid (6'3" 230 lbs.) who doesn't strike out very often. The only mark against him so far is his fielding: to date he has already committed 10 errors, which is second in the ACC. As for other WF players, the Demon Deacons have their two top hitters from last year returning in CF Evans Stephens (.333 BA) and infielder Matt Conway (.301 BA). WF doesn't run very much although they do get on base via a walk fairly often.

As I mentioned above WF's pitchers have been much more effective this season. Their closer Aaron Fossas has six saves, twice the number of any of last year's staff. John McLeod is a southpaw that could give the Terps trouble if he can get his pitches over the plate. In 42.1 innings he's allowed 19 walks and hit five batters. But opponents are only batting .206 against him. Jack Fischer moves from being a mid-week starter in 2013 to a weekend starter in 2014. Fischer's ERA has improved from 6.12 a year ago to 2.63 this year.

Terps playing well themselves

The Terps are playing good ball. In their last six games they've committed only two errors. They've received solid pitching against teams that can swing the bat. Unfortunately Maryland went on a bit of a hitting funk that they seem to be pulling themselves out of. Part of that was undoubtedly due to injuries that plagued a number of players. LaMonte Wade and Jose Cuas are swinging hot bats now, while Charlie White and Brandon Lowe continue to pester opponents. Kyle Convissar has hit the ball hard and it's only a matter of time until he goes yard again.

Blake Schmit will be back in the line-up for this important ACC series. He suffered a concussion in last Friday night's first game when he fouled off a pitch that ricocheted up and smacked him square in the face.

The probable starting pitching match-ups are as follows:

Friday - Jake Stinnett (3 - 3, 2.16 ERA) vs. RHP Jack Fischer (3 - 2, 2.63 ERA)
Saturday - Mike Shawaryn (5 - 1, 2.25 ERA) vs. LHP John McLeod (4 - 1, 1.91 ERA)
Sunday - Zach Morris (0 - 0, 1.00 ERA) vs. RHP Connor Kaden (2 - 2, 3.37 ERA)

My vaunted prediction

This is a litmus test for both teams. Maryland needs to win this series to bolster their seeding in the ACC tournament. It would also be a series win away from Shipley Field. Winning games on the road helps a team's resume when selection for the NCAA tournament rolls around. Wake Forest hasn't convinced baseball folk yet that they're for real; taking a series from a highly-regarded Maryland team should do that. It would also dramatically improve the Demon Deacons' RPI, which is currently an unremarkable 63.

When the dust clears I'd be surprised if the Terps don't take at least two of three from WF. After facing pitchers like Luke Weaver, Trent Thornton, Carlos Rodon, and Daniel Gossett, the Terps bats should further awaken from their stupor. Maryland is a better fielding team and runs the bases much more effectively than WF. If Morris is sharp on Sunday then I think we sweep.

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