Maryland baseball: Mid-season review and second half outlook; NCAAs possibility

Maryland relies on strong pitching and sharp defense - Ryan Kantor @ryan_kantor

Maryland had many positive moments in the first half of the 2014 baseball season. Their RPI is presently 13, which was achieved playing the sixth toughest schedule in the country. With their heaviest competition behind them, can the Terps do what it takes to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 43 years?

At the midpoint of the 2014 season (at least from the perspective of ACC games) Maryland stands at 19 - 10. Their record against the ACC is 6 - 8. I'll first give a high-level overview of the season to date, comment on strengths and areas of need, and finally speculate on where the Terps might find themselves at the end of the season.

Overview of the season thus far

Bad weather abounded throughout February and March in the eastern U.S. Many of the Terps' games during those months were played under less than desirable conditions. This did not seem to affect Maryland's play as they started off the season playing solid baseball.

Maryland travelled to Gainesville to open their season against a ranked Florida Gators team. They acquitted themselves well, taking one of three and playing competitive ball. After that the Terps played seven non-conference games against Bryant, U Mass, and JMU: all at home except for JMU. The Terps took all seven games, which included a no-hitter hurled by Jake Stinnett against U Mass.

Next up was the ACC season opening series down in Tallahassee. The Terps took one of three and played the Seminoles tough. A buzz was beginning to form about the Terps' quality play. After a mid-week blowout of Delaware, the Terps hosted UNC, at the time ranked in the top 15. Maryland took the middle game of the set and almost won the third. In the midweek games that ensued the Terps demolished Delaware and UMBC.

The buzz turned into acclaim after the Terps swept NC State. As a result Maryland stood at 5 - 4 in the ACC and 16 - 6 overall. They were ranked in the top 25 in more than one national poll. The collegiate baseball world was taking notice and wanted to see if the Terps were for real. Unfortunately, Clemson came to town and beat the Terps twice (one game was rained out). That knocked the Terps out of the national polls. But in two midweek games against tough opponents VCU and Liberty, the Terps prevailed.

Then Wake Forest happened. It was a golden opportunity for Maryland to win an ACC series on the road and strengthen their standings in the conference. Things didn't go as planned and the Terps only took the final game in the series.

Assessment of the team: Pitching, Running, and Fielding

Maryland's main strength has been their pitching. Jake Stinnett has been solid as the Friday night pitcher; he'll go somewhere within the top three rounds of the MLB draft. Freshman Mike Shawaryn is the biggest surprise so far, winning his first five decisions before hitting a bump against Clemson and Wake Forest. The Terps rank 2nd in the ACC in opposing batting average, 3rd in strike outs per game, and 3rd in walks allowed per game. But Maryland has been victimized by the long ball 14 times, tied for worst in the ACC. Additionally, Maryland's been having trouble sorting out who would be their Sunday starter. The Terps began with Jared Price. When that didn't work they went to Kevin Mooney, then Tayler Stiles, and now Zach Morris.

The midweek starters have been sharp. Jake Drossner and Bobby Ruse have a combined record of 7 - 0. The Terps' relievers have also been quite good. Kevin Mooney leads the team with 5 saves, and Stiles, Ben Brewster, and Alex Robinson have held down the fort.

Maryland has run the bases with abandon, tied with Clemson for the ACC lead at 56 steals. There have been numerous times when the Terps executed successful double steals. Charlie White leads the team with 15 SB, followed by Blake Schmit with 11, and Anthony Papio with 7. However Maryland has been picked off base a number of times, which is something they'll need to remedy. On the reverse side, the catcher tandem of Kevin Martir and Nick Cieri has been able to thrown out 12 of 32 runners for a respectable 38% success rate.

The Terrapin's defense has been impressive. Schmit looks every bit like a MLB shortstop. Lowe and Krysthian Leal have provided many exceptional plays at second base. In the outfield White and Papio have run down almost everything hit their way. Further, White's provided a couple of web gem catches. The Terrapins' fielding percentage of .977 is tied for 2nd best in the ACC. The weak spots has been at third and in left field, which have accounted for 10 of the Terrapins' 22 errors by position players.

Assessment of the team: Batting

The lack of Terrapin production at the plate has been a serious concern. Their team batting average of .258 ranks 11th in the ACC, and the Terps are next-to-last in hits per game. But Maryland ranks fifth in the conference in terms of OBP, thanks to leading the league in HBP. With a reasonable OBP and their ability to swipe bases, the Terrapins should be able to score runs. But that hasn't exactly happened. This can be attributed to two things: a lack of timely hitting earlier in the season and a dearth of extra base hits. Maryland has hit only eight home runs to date, two triples, and 51 doubles: that puts them 12th in slugging percentage. Only Jose Cuas has more than one home run, and he leads the team with three dingers.

Second half outlook

The Terrapins' schedule gets easier in the second half of the season. That's good as it will certainly bolster the team's seeding in the ACC tournament. The downside is that it will lower our SOS; the SOS is definitely taken into account for selection into the NCAA tournament.

ACC Tournament Seeding as of 4/6/2014*

RANK

SCHOOLS

ACC

Overall

1

Florida State

13-2-0

26-5-0

2

Virginia

12-3-0

27-5-0

3

Miami

11-4-0

21-12-0

4

Clemson

9-4-0

20-10-0

5

Wake Forest

10-5-0

22-12-0

6

Georgia Tech

8-7-0

19-13-0

7

Pitt

8-7-0

16-15-0

8

North Carolina

7-8-0

18-13-0

9

Duke

7-8-0

17-16-0

10

Maryland

6-8-0

19-10-0

11

Virginia Tech

5-10-0

14-15-1

12

NC State

4-10-0

18-12-0

13

Boston College

2-13-0

10-20-0

14

Notre Dame

1-14-0

10-20-0

* Clemson plays NC State tonight

At this moment Maryland makes it into the ACC tournament as the 10th seed. Since seeds 7 - 10 have a "play-in" game, Maryland would face Pitt. But Maryland can change all that by winning at least three of the last five series. The Terps have difficult OOC opponents left in VCU, West Virginia (twice) and St. Joseph's. They should be able to take at least two of those games, while winning virtually all of the other OOC games.

I'm projecting that the Terps finish with a 15 - 14 ACC record at the very least. This would be the first time Maryland has finished above .500 in the ACC since 1981. In terms of overall record, I believe Maryland will go into the ACC Tournament with a 35 - 19 record, setting a school mark for victories in a season. If the above comes about then Maryland will be playing in the NCAA Tournament, breaking a drought of 43 years.

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